Vatican II

9 Bruce Duncan, CSsR – Has the Catholic critique of Capitalism stalled?

Has the Catholic critique of Capitalism stalled?

World financial markets are reeling from the revelations about the lies, fraud and corruption in Enron, WorldCom and other major US firms and leading auditing firms, with directors awarding themselves hundreds of millions of dollars in bonuses even as their firms returned huge losses. Enron’s Kenneth Lay took an extra US$101 million in the months before Enron’s collapse. WorldCom’s Bernard Ebber `lent’ himself $US366 million before his firm collapsed. There are many other examples of this grab for money by top executives, even though their firms performed wretchedly. The ten top earning executives in 2000 in the USA averaged $154 million a year, 20 times more after inflation than the top ten averaged in 1980. How is it that larceny and corruption on such a scale should only now become apparent? What are the implications for a capitalist culture that tolerates such absurd levels of remuneration on the plea that the market sets the wage levels? What remains of the so-called `free market’ when oligopolistic power is so concentrated and the monitoring system is so massively corrupted?

Adam Smith would not be at all surprised at this turn of events, for he profoundly distrusted merchants and businesspeople in his day, and was strongly opposed to oligopolies and monopolies, with their excessive concentration of economic and political power.

No doubt governments will intervene to try to prevent such a crisis occurring again, but the current fiasco highlights a growing dilemma in western capitalism, that a `free market’ cannot operate properly without a suitable framework of ethics and institutional supports. In particular, the New Right dogma which extols contractual justice at the expense of social and distributive justice plays into the hands of the rich and powerful, and allows them to wink at inequalities and the poverty of so many.

Here I wish to look at how this has come about, and why the churches, particularly the Catholic Church, need to be much more vigorous in defending social and distributive justice, and the rights of the poor and disadvantaged. I was expecting that a new social encyclical would do precisely this on the anniversary of Rerum Novarum in 2001.

Why no new encyclical?

To my knowledge there has been no official comment on the fact that there was no encyclical to commemorate the 110th anniversary of Pope Leo’s landmark document, On the Condition of the Working Class (Rerum Novarum). Leo’s 1891 encyclical brought the Catholic Church into a new and more positive engagement with the social problems arising from the industrial revolution, and galvanised the energies of many Catholics to join the struggle for social justice and workers’ rights.

As we know, Rerum Novarum was long overdue but it nevertheless authenticated a longer tradition of Catholic social activism and articulated a core of social philosophy and positions around which Catholics could mobilise. Leo’s document addressed issues of the day and began the long series of papal efforts to reinvigorate the social thinking of Catholics. Later papal social documents, many of them on anniversaries of Rerum Novarum, took it as their point of reference as they addressed new issues in various historical contexts. Pope John Paul II’s 1991 encyclical, Centesimus Annus, followed the collapse of the Soviet Union and was a striking confirmation of key elements of Rerum Novarum, particularly in its critique of Marxist versions of socialism and its proposals for the reform of capitalism.

A question then arises why the Pope did not issue another social encyclical in May 2001. And what conclusions should we draw from this?

I have no insider knowledge on why no new encyclical appeared, so what I say here is speculation on my part. First it would be a mistake, in my view, to conclude that the Pope considers the tradition of social encyclicals has outlived its purpose, or that he thinks the major issues have been solved. As Vatican watchers know, the Vatican is intensely engaged in promoting concern about social problems of hunger, labour issues, human rights, peace and world development. Practically every other day there is some significant statement on these issues from the Pope or his representatives at the United Nations or other international bodies. Consider the Vatican’s involvement in trying to promote dialogue between Muslim and western countries, or its support for efforts to alleviate hunger and disease in developing nations. It is true, of course, that the Pope himself is now very frail. Nevertheless, even since 1991 his speeches on social issues would fill several volumes. Especially important have been his World Day of Peace messages on 1 January each year, as well as many of his speeches overseas, crafted for difficult situations in many countries.

Second, it may be that the pope considered that the Year of the Great Jubilee, 2001, already had so much happening that it was unnecessary to draft a further encyclical. Indeed, the Pope had intended to be launched during the Jubilee Year the still forthcoming compendium of Church teaching on social justice. I understand that this compendium is nearing completion now.

A further aspect should be kept in mind, that the core papal documents on the Great Jubilee have social concern at their very heart, especially The Third Millennium (1994) and his 2001 document, At the Beginning of the New Millennium. In contrast with earlier Church social documents which relied on a natural law philosophical approach, John Paul’s recent documents revolve around the Jubilee message in Luke 4, when Jesus announces he has come to bring Good News to the poor and liberty to captives. The Pope has repeatedly highlighted the social significance of these passages for the Church today, confronted with such massive problems of hunger, peace, justice and the environment.

John Paul was a noted philosopher himself, and of course recognises the importance of systematic and coherent philosophical thinking. This makes his concentration on these Scriptural passages all the more significant, bypassing philosophical disputes to go to the heart of God’s revelation in the Gospel, of God’s passionate concern for the disadvantaged and suffering.

It is no overstatement to insist that if we have not understood that this is who God is, and what is asked of us, then we have understood little. Recall the prophets Amos and Isaiah telling the people of Israel that God despises their prayers and is disgusted with their offerings when they oppress the poor. Instead, `learn to do good, search for justice, help the oppressed, be just to the orphan, plead for the widow’ (Isaiah 1: 13, 17).

The welcome implication of this emphasis on the Jubilee theme as absolutely central to Christian faith is that it is not sectarian. Not only can Christians of all denominations affirm this notion of God wholeheartedly, but those of other major world religions can also endorse it. Even people with no religious belief can affirm the ideals of justice and peace implied in this image of God.

It is important to note how heavily the Pope has been stressing the social implications of the faith. As Desmond O’Grady pointed out recently, Pope John Paul considers that the fundamental thrust from the Second Vatican Council was to turn Catholics `outwards to tackle society’s problems’. It is a message many Australian Catholics are finding difficult to hear, if an overly devotional emphasis sometimes given to the Jubilee program of 2000 is any indication.

To determine just what the search for peace, justice and human rights means in practice, of course, and how to bring about conditions for the flourishing of people of all beliefs, are the tasks confronting us.

In the current context of globalisation and the astonishing gap in living conditions between the rich and poor nations, one of our most pressing tasks is to harness our immense economic and social resources to eradicate hunger and the worst forms of poverty. Leading economists have assured us that for the first time in history we have the resources to do this. This is an astonishing claim, which other ages would have dismissed as utopian. But if it is true, it is imperative we seize this opportunity.

Libertarian economics: Friedrich von Hayek

However, world efforts to eradicate poverty have been handicapped by a philosophy of economic individualism that has captured the imagination of many leading businesspeople and economic institutions. Perhaps the best known exponent of this philosophy is Friedrich von Hayek (1899-1992), who dismissed the concept of social justice as illusory, insisting that the market was the best and fairest allocator of resources. Hayek considered social justice as `humbug’, and `one of the greatest obstacles to the elimination of poverty’.

A member of the famous Austrian School of Economics, Hayek moved to London in the early 1930s, becoming a British subject in 1938. He worked at the University of Chicago from 1950 to 1962. Hayek opposed Keynesian policies after the Second World War when it seemed economics had found the answer to increasing prosperity for the great bulk of the population, along with full employment. At the time Hayek was regarded as eccentric in his anti-Keynesian views. But with the failure of Keynesian policies during the 1970s, Hayek was given a new hearing, winning many over to his political and economic views, which continue to have a significant influence in the capitalist world. For his theories about money and on the inter-relationship between economic, social and institutional phenomena, in 1974 he shared the Nobel Prize in economics with the development economist, Gunnar Myrdal.

A libertarian in philosophy, Hayek also argued against the notions of social and distributive justice on the grounds that only commutative justice based on a freely agreed contract could be reasonable. He adopted a Kantian position that the mind could not know any objective standard of justice, and hence only the obligations of justice freely entered into could be binding.

We have experienced the influence of this philosophy in Australia, often termed `economic rationalism’, when it assumes that market determinations will produce the most beneficial economic outcomes without considering also the social implications of various policies. Recent economic policies have campaigned to

dismantle or reduce many of the measures sustaining the welfare state, including public housing, health benefits and education spending

reduce social support benefits and entitlements

increase compliance requirements for those on entitlements

weaken trade unions in an effort to reduce wage levels and pare back industrial awards,

privatise as much as possible of public industries or services, and break up natural monopolies to create a putative market, sometimes with only limited success

attempt to reduce tax rates for upper income groups and extend indirect taxes.

Such policies need not always be mistaken, but need to be assessed carefully to ensure that they do not carry over into a rejection or winding-back of distributive justice.

Down-playing distributive and social justice?

Even some Catholic writers, like Michael Novak and his neoconservative colleagues, have been strongly influenced by Hayek and his admirers. Some of these Catholics work for US think-tanks and organisations generously funded by private financial interests. They have been vigorous critics of aspects of papal social teaching and the statements of the US Catholic bishops on social and economic affairs, particularly to do with social justice or distributive justice. Such a well financed critique of official Catholic social teaching by these Catholic intellectuals is a new phenomenon for English-speaking Catholics, and has confused some about what the Church formally holds on capitalism.

Hence this debate urgently needs to be clarified between, on the one hand, the ideological proponents of the free market almost as a moral mechanism which dispenses with the need to question the allocation of wealth and resources, and rejects the notions of social and distributive justice; and on the other hand, those who argue that the market requires a moral and institutional framework to ensure that outcomes are just. The Catholic Church, along with other religious bodies, is among those arguing strongly for the latter view.

Formal Catholic views on free-market capitalism

It is difficult to summarise the Catholic Church’s response to capitalism during more than a century. There have been major changes in the various forms of capitalism over that time, and enormous developments within some of these forms to create institutions and affirm values to share wealth more equitably. Particularly after the trauma of the Depression and the Second World War, public opinion in the western democracies strongly supported the expansion of the welfare state and gave a high priority to securing full employment.

Despite these seismic changes in the forms of capitalism, there are a number of aspects in the Church’s critiques that have remained steady. It developed its thinking about social and distributive justice as the basis for its ethical critique of the changes in capitalism. It also denied that economics was a value-free `science’ in the positivist sense, and strongly opposed the utilitarian philosophical assumptions underlying much economics.

Since the time of Leo XIII, the Catholic Church maintained a double critique of Marxian socialism on the one hand, and of capitalism, in as much as it violated distributive justice and was based on a philosophy of economic individualism.

Leo XIII had inherited the scholastic tradition of social thought that defended the right to private property, but he wanted this right extended so that all people could share in its benefits, particularly the working class (Rerum Novarum, #65). He was appalled by the extreme inequality whereby wealth and resources were concentrated into the hands of a few, imposing `a yoke of slavery’ on the masses (#6). He insisted that a contract was not valid if the bargaining power of the parties was too disproportionate, and so insisted that workers could form unions to augment their bargaining position. Workers had a right to a living wage, enough to support their families and provide for old age or sickness (#63-65). The state must intervene to ensure that the rights of workers were protected (#54).

Leo used the terms `economic liberalism’ as a synonym for Manchester or `laissez-faire’ capitalism to typify the versions of capitalism to which he most objected. The term `economic liberalism’ functions in Church documents almost as a Weberian `type’ and can be confusing for English-speaking audiences for whom `liberalism’ does not have such heavy ideological and elitist overtones as it had in Europe.

The term `social justice’ was first used by Pope Pius XI in the 1920s, and in 1931 in his social encyclical, Quadragesimo Anno, which as the name indicates was issued on the fortieth anniversary of Rerum Novarum. Writing at the depth of the Great Depression, Pope Pius condemned the vast inequalities in wealth and the injustice suffered by the poor, and particularly the Manchester school of economics that allowed wages to fall to subsistence levels. (#54). `Free competition, kept within just and definite limits, and still more, economic power, must be brought under the effective control of the public authority, in matters appertaining to the latter’s competence’, to conform to social justice (#133-34).

As Pope Pius XI used the term, `social justice’ represented a modernisation of Aquinas’s notion of `legal’ or `general’ justice, which terms no longer reflected their true meaning. Social justice was the virtue by which individuals directed their acts to the common good.

Later Popes reiterated these positions. Pope Paul VI in Development of Peoples (1967) condemned an `unchecked liberalism’, `a system which… considers profit as the key motive for economic progress, competition as the supreme law of economics, and private ownership of the means of production as an absolute right that has no limits and carries no corresponding social obligation’ (#26). `Without abolishing the competitive market, it should be kept within the limits which make it just and moral’, restoring to the participants a certain equality of opportunity’ (#61).

In his Centesimus Annus, Pope John Paul II reiterated the Church’s critique of capitalism when it excluded most people from any genuine ownership (#6). He said Leo XIII’s attack on `unbridled capitalism’ was still relevant, especially in the Third World. Hence `it is right to speak of a struggle against an economic system, if the latter is understood as a method of upholding the absolute predominance of capital’. He favoured a `society of free work, of enterprise and of participation. Such a society is not directed against the market, but demands that the market be appropriately controlled by the forces of society and by the State, so as to guarantee that the basic needs of the whole of society are satisfied’ (#35). He warned that after the collapse of communism, `a radical capitalist ideology could spread’, blindly entrusting problems to the free development of market forces (#34). Hence the free market must be subject to `public control which upholds the principle of the common destination of material goods’ (#19).

In 1993, John Pope reiterated that `Catholic social doctrine is not a surrogate for capitalism’, and that the Church had `always distanced itself from capitalist ideology, holding it responsible for grave social injustices’.

We could multiply quotes from the Pope deploring the terrible inequalities and injustices between rich and poor countries. In 1999 he lamented that there was no international juridical or normative framework to guide financial markets. On 1 May 2000 he that the global market needed to be balanced by a `a global culture of solidarity that is attentive to the needs of the weakest’

Adam Smith

Neo-liberal defenders of the `free market’ often invoke the mantle of Adam Smith, particularly his doctrine of the `hidden hand’, which they interpret as that the free market would automatically allocate resources most efficiently and hence increase productivity and overall wealth. However, many seem not actually to have read Smith, who did not argue that the market should automatically replace the community’s moral judgement about how to secure the common good. Instead, in recent decades Smith has been co-opted by the New Right `as a sort of Bible’ in support of policies that he would very much condemn. This is particularly so in the short-hand language of some of the media and, of course, many politicians.

Smith only explicitly referred to the metaphor of the hidden hand in two places. In The Wealth of Nations (1776), he wrote that even though an individual `intends only his own gain, and he is in this… led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention…By pursuing his own interest he frequently [my emphasis] promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it. I have not known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good’. Smith was not talking about the `hidden hand’ of the market, but of nature, and included in the workings of this hidden hand all the various social, cultural and institutional factors, of which the market was only one.

But in his other, earlier reference in The Theory of the Moral Sentiments (1759), Smith had argued that the hidden hand would redistribute wealth more equally: `The rich… are led by an invisible hand to make nearly the same distribution of the necessities of life, which would have been made, had the earth been divided into equal portions among all its inhabitants, and thus without intending it, without knowing, advance the interest of the society…’

Subsequent economic experience has not borne out Smith’s intuition about an equitable distribution of wealth following from the free market. But it is clear that Smith did not intend his writing on the benefits of the free market, against the mercantilist system of his day, to be used as an ideological weapon to concentrate wealth in the hands of the rich. For Smith’s views about dealing with poverty and hunger have been widely misrepresented. He was not of course against free trade, but he did support government intervention to protect the poor.

Smith argued against mercantilism because he realised that governments were constrained by powerful sectional interests to grant them privileges and monopolies that harmed the general wellbeing. As Lubasz comments, Smith wanted to remove such corrupt distortions of the market so that every person would be able to use their industry and capital to increase overall production for the benefit of the whole society. Smith vehemently attacked the extortionate practices of the great entrepreneurs and merchants who preyed upon the poor and colluded against the common good to maximise their own self-interest. It is astonishing that in the nineteenth century Smith came to be seen as the advocate of laissez faire policies aimed at minimising government intervention in markets. Smith did not argue in favour of small government, but against the domination of government policies by commercial interests. He recognised that governments had to maintain order and provide certain services that private interests could not.

In Adam Smith in his time and ours: designing the decent society, Jerry Muller argued that Smith wanted to show that self-love in economics could have desirable outcomes, especially by developing institutions which would discipline the passions and reinforce socially and morally acceptable behaviour, by moving self-love to benevolence and altruism. Smith wanted to increase the welfare of ordinary people, and to use economic policy to expand employment and increase the purchasing power of workers by keeping the price of goods low and wages high. When he died in 1790, Smith left little in his estate as he had given most of his income away in charity, taking care to conceal this at the time. Smith can hardly be blamed for the views of some of his more avid admirers, such as the Adam Smith Institute in Britain or Friedrich von Hayek, who invoke his name to claim that self-interest can be channelled through the market mechanism to produce of itself the best result. Hence in a popular conception, the `scientific pursuit of free-market efficiency’ minimises or eliminates ethical questions about distribution.

As the Nobel Prize winner, Amartya Sen, wrote in On Ethics and Economics, the gap between ethics and economics, as a whole is one of the major deficiencies of economic theory. Sen argued against the assumptions that self-interest maximisation best approximated actual human behaviour and that it led to the best economic outcome. In rejecting the dominant view that ethics and economics could not be closely linked, Sen returned to Adam Smith, who considered the making of money as subordinate to the good for the human being and the State.

However, it is what Sen calls the `engineering approach’ that has dominated modern economics, impoverishing the discipline by its neglect of normative analysis and of ethical considerations in human behaviour. He rejected the assumption standard in much economics equating rationality with purely self-interested behaviour, instancing Japan as an example of how duty, loyalty and goodwill have been part of its success.


As a summary of an ethical response to economics, it is hard to improve on the fundamental principles which Oliver Williams identifies in Pope John Paul II’s thinking:

The market is an important and necessary mechanism for the production and allocation of resources, but it must be subject to ethical constraints which ensure that the outcomes of exchange satisfy the demands of distributive and social justice, that the basic needs of all are met. The Church has never condemned capitalism itself, but materialism and the failure to situate economic activity within an adequate moral dimension.

The state has an important role to regulate society and the market so that the rights of all are respected. However, it is limited by the duty to respect the dignity of persons, enhance the opportunity for individual freedom and initiative, promote equality of opportunity, and following the principle of subsidiarity, not undertake tasks that can be properly performed by other associations or organisations.

The Church insists that economics belongs within the moral framework of virtue, and such virtue can only be developed through social institutions. The Pope acknowledges that the market itself inculcates many virtues, but he also calls on the family, school, associations and the state to play their roles in sustaining a moral framework.

The Church and Business

While the Church can promote such views, to be fully effective they will require the participation of business and the economics community. This is one of the most immediate difficulties for the Church. In the past business people and entrepreneurs often have not listened to Church spokespeople because of what they perceive as anti-business rhetoric and prejudice in Church social justice statements, for example, when capitalism is equated with exploitation. Yet these are precisely the people who have most experience with how the economy works, and what can be done to improve it. As one US businessman wrote, `shrill rhetoric’ only alienates business people. He lamented the lack of a forum in which business people and the Church could work more positively together.

The Church must seek ways to communicate its views on social justice

Has, then, the Church’s critique of capitalism stalled?

Yes and no. Recent popes and the Vatican have given a strong lead and a long-running critique of `economic liberalism’, but the Church more broadly has been slow to respond.

On the episcopal level, the lead given by the US bishops in their social documents of the 1980s has not been sustained, especially as the influence of the Catholic neo-conservatives has found some support even among some of their current bishops. Moreover, the US bishops seem to lack the intellectual calibre of the generation before them, particularly to debate competently these areas of public policy.

The Catholic agencies for health, welfare and justice and peace have generally been very active in various parts of Australia, and many Catholic schools and parish groups promote education for justice. While there is a greater acceptance of social justice in the Catholic mainstream, we still lack a rich assortment of Catholic intellectuals and business people able to debate social and economic policy convincingly in the public forum. We also lack associations of Catholics and other Christians prepared seriously to explore the implications of Catholic social thought for living standards, business practice, trade and economic development overseas. How can we draw on the immense expertise among Catholic laity to contribute more solidly to the development of public policy in Australia, particularly in areas relating to the economy, international relations and issues of peace and development?


The first session of this workshop discussed the level of remuneration going to CEOs of major companies and the difficulties faced by shareholders in insisting on responsible conduct, in addition to pressures on CEOs to meet exaggerated profit expectations of shareholders. It was suggested that the high rate of casual and part-time positions resulted from difficulties in dismissing employees and the effect of payroll tax. Discussion continued on why many Catholics still do not think that social justice should be a critical issue in our religious consciousness.

The question was raised of the problems arising from church agencies taking on government contracts as employment agencies etc., in lieu of what used to be the work of government departments. Some participants considered that it was not the job of the Church to be carrying out what could be considered essential government functions.

The second session of this workshop discussed the need to recognise the range of Catholic philosophical and theological views on social and economic reform. There was a need to develop forums in which these views could be properly considered and debated. The group also discussed how the considerable skills and expertise in the Catholic lay community could be more constructively tapped. Some thought that there was a lack of adequate networking whereby lay Catholics, acting on their own initiative and responsibility independently of the bishops, could develop and articulate contributions to public debate, especially by publications, conferences and lobbying.

Some considered that they had experienced little leadership on social issues from the pulpit, but that lay people could exercise their own initiatives, as demonstrated with setting up the Bendigo and community banks. Other participants added that more than a `band aid’ approach was needed. Catholics needed to overcome a traditional inertia on social issues to make a more substantial effort to promote a more equitable society.

( Bruce Duncan was ordained as a Redemptorist priest in 1971. He has a degree in Economics and a PhD in Political Science. Currently he co-ordinates the program of social justice studies at Yarra Theological Union in Melbourne and also works as a consultant at Catholic Social Services Victoria.)

Posted by Bob Birchall in Archives, Vatican II

8 Geraldine Doogue- Unfinished Business – the Church in Public Life

Unfinished Business – the Church in Public Life

Each year the Australian Financial Review gathers about 25 interested observers to assess who are the really powerful in Australian public life, those who could affect the course of debate and set their own agenda. Not one mentioned anyone in the Churches, which is an interesting benchmark about attitudes.

I could name maybe one, Fr. Frank Brennan, or a couple of nuns who have emerged during the whole asylum-seeker debate. But names of people from the institutional Church do not pop to centre-stage when the media are seeking out people for commentary purposes.

Why? Partly due to the increasingly specialist nature of things, so people are sought for their particular expertise. Accordingly, less generalists are sought out and when they are, they’re very good indeed at what they do e.g. Hugh Mackay, Julian Disney, Robert Fitzgerald, Rod Cameron, Judith Brett (Melbourne political scientist and author). Not many Church people are as confident or competent.

Sometimes the good politicians fill that role, e.g. Bob Carr, Peter Beattie, former Senator Bob Collins, (once would have said Gareth Evans!) Nick Greiner, Neville Wran, Bob Hawke and, increasingly, Malcolm Fraser.

The more popular generalists are sought out, like Alan Jones, Ita Buttrose, Ian Kiernan (Cleanup – Australia man), various sports-people on whom wisdom and knowledge are sometimes absurdly conferred e.g. John Eales, Kevin Sheedy (who is not bad in fact) Rod McGeoch, who helped win the Olympics for Australia, etc.

But actually those who are used as sages, as providers of genuine help and clarity where people need it in terms of making sense of their lives, are usually the psychologists, writers and artists. For example people like David Malouf or Inga Clendinnen or Eva Cox, writing in the Boyer Lectures for instance, use language that really can unlock deep and profound road-blocks in contemporary mind-sets and satisfy searchers for ways ahead.

The success of the self-help genre in modern bookstores is testament to the vacuum many sense and the need for some coaching (I’d often say rather misguided).

The good psychologists especially and to a lesser extent the sociologists, are genuinely helpful and have absolutely stepped into the role once played by Church in ensuring that Christ took the starring role in the interplay between humans in their various worldly transactions.

Now, people, like the eminent American psychologist Martin Seligman, are likely to be the type who, after much observational research and apparently value-free scholarship, will bell-the-cat on the mindless pursuit of individualism or autonomy. He will use phrases like “the individual was never a good site for contentment” (with which the Church would be quite comfortable) and somehow, it will ring true; or he will warn that the epidemic of depression emerges from an infatuation with the pursuit of self and self-improvement, to the neglect of relationship with others or some bigger purpose. Professor Anthony Clare, the head of psychiatry at Trinity College in Dublin, a charming Irishman whom the BBC has made a celebrity, will be asked to compile a book on Men or a list on What Makes People Happy? . resulting in a thoroughly good list, again with which the Church would be unlikely to disagree. Stephanie Dowrick, a regular guest on the media, will write a best-seller on the Humane Virtues, which she nominates, offering quite a profound reservoir of thoughts, which do draw on the great Christian tradition. This is immensely popular. The open question we should maybe ponder today is. “Would all these people receive such attention if they were seen as attached to Church?”

On the broader backdrop, what I’d call “the values discussion” appears through the ‘fog’ in the most unlikely places. For example, Stephen Roach, said to be the most consulted economist in the world today, was here in Australia for a conference and was quoted yesterday on ABC Radio’s PM, saying that the shocks to the American way of capitalism from these latest 18 months of revelations had been “profound, very serious . . . and rare”. He did not think a cataclysm beckoned – “we have too many institutional skills and memories to allow that to happen”, he said, but he wanted to stress the “open moments” through which we were living. I detect that too.

The British Government under the forward-thinking Tony Blair (whatever else you think o him) has apparently nominated the values discussion as one that is of growing in importance. The Australian Financial Review devoted two pages, in one of its weekend editions, to an analysis of ‘hope’, headlined: “Creating A Reason To Believe”. It was a very good article exploring the desperate struggle for the aspirational voter that has characterised the last two elections in Australia. The writers really tried to wrestle with this, discerning between aspiration, ambition, pretension and hope, which they defined as “complete assurance and certitude regarding the character, ability, strength or truth of someone or something” – synonymous with trust, confidence, dependence. At first, the words appear closely related. In spirit, they are diametrically opposed, the two writers assert. (Refer to Quotable Quotes references at the end of this article).

This is highly impressive, as a snapshot of what the media thinks is palatable to consumers. Sometimes in Catalyst for Renewal, I find people suggesting that the sort of talks and venues that we sponsor are unique, the only place people can hear these things. I feel the need to counter: that this is not so! I am paid to watch public life unfold and in my judgement, it is not a value-free, conscience free zone at all. Quite the reverse. There is a plethora of searching, overtly and covertly underway, with quite elaborate and imaginative forums being devised.

As Basil Mitchell, in his excellent essay on The Christian Conscience in The Oxford Illustrated History of Christianity (OUP 1992) puts provocatively but eloquently: “In particular, the ‘secular thought’ of societies with a long history of Christian influence may sometimes turn out to have been more authentically Christian than what has been officially received as Christian teaching.”

He also adds that a backdrop of the change in tone and conversation in modern public life, has been an appeal to personal experience. This is endorsed as one of the leading themes of the modern period, going back at least to the beginnings of the Romantic Movement, which is hard not to acknowledge as a permanent advance in human awareness.

“The problem for Christian ethics is that its secular manifestations have been increasingly developing in terms of purely individual self-fulfillment and self-expression. Exclusive reliance upon the self could clearly become dangerously subjective”, says Mitchell. I would argue that here, we are entering classical Church territory where it should ideally be contributing much better to the culture. But invariably the tone presented by any Church representative, either of the Catholic or Protestant persuasion, sounds punishing, limiting or fore-closing, in a way that, say, Martin Seligman, did NOT! Why this is so, is a challenging dilemma.

Certainly, on listening to Joe Komonchak this morning, I could fairly be accused of the ‘crimes’ he said traditionalists say are committed by progressives: I am mainly interested in what might broadly be dubbed “cultural and community development” and not sufficiently with internal renewal. I am very interested in this in fact, but would not dream of imposing that on others and I know it would be highly unwise to venture there publicly, within my arena anyway.

So I plead guilty to that particular charge. But, I would add that I have learned, particularly over the last 10 years, how to take-the-best-and-leave-the-rest having stepped out of the mainstream News/Current Affairs culture. I have learned that one can venture into the values area by exploring the territory of rhetoric, spirit and introspection. In this way, one can emerge relatively unscathed.

However, one of the conclusions I have drawn is to realise that the underlying motif is a search for influence rather than power. I would distill it down to this – I see dangers in aiming for that genuine power in public life, though this may be related to my particular temperament, which is not particularly competitive, but life can be most rewarding at that level of influence. Real joy can be a companion, real satisfaction together with real frustration too. Speaking personally, I detect a life-enhancing spirit at work here, which might be connected with Gospel values more than is immediately obvious.

I hope this offers us some guidance as we ponder the unfinished business of the Church in public life.

Quotable Quotes

Karl Rahner, A Rahner Reader ed. Gerald McCooI, DLT 1975: “The Church of the future will be a diaspora community. Christians will be scattered in small group through a vast secular society that will afford them no sociological support for their belief. Unless their diaspora community is to fall back upon itself and become a ghetto, the Christians of the future will have to cultivate a deep personal commitment to their faith and an outgoing attitude toward their world. Thus personal initiative will be supremely important in the diaspora Church. The Church of the future must point its pastoral practice toward the development of personal conviction in her members and the exercise of individual apostolic action by the Christians who are surrounded by a secular culture”.

Richard Major, reporting on cardinal Francis George, Archbishop of Chicago, speaking in Dallas, June, 2002, reported in The Tablet, June 22: ” Then the cardinal spelled out his view of American civilisation, and the journalists began squirming, stirring in their seats, laughing nervously and snorting, which is the effect truth sometimes has on journalists. “Our culture is secularised Protestantism, self-righteous and decadent at the same time. In such a culture, how can the Church understand itself? How can it, smaller perhaps but faithful, as it is likely to be, understand anew celibacy, or homosexuality, which society does not pretend to understand either? To whom do we really listen?”’

An editorial in The Tablet, regarding, Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor’s address to the National conference of Priests: (September 2001): “Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor was not the only one taken aback by the extent of reaction to the unscripted remarks he made . . .his off-the-cuff observation that Christianity ‘as a backdrop to people’s lives and moral decision” has now “almost been vanquished’ in Britain was not new. It struck a chord . . .the media welcomed his candour, so too many clergy, who have grown tired of hearing about future dawns and second springs.

The question facing a secular Britain is not whether it can manage without a Christian framework, but how well. In many areas, the verdict is not impressive. And most of the moral principles that young people hold dear—anti-racism, individual rights, care for the planet—have arisen out of a Christian culture even where that is not acknowledge. In other respects however, Britain is showing signs of losing that heritage. Its citizens fear what seems to be an increasing materialism and self-obsessed individualism, more violence, more anxiety, less respect for human life, a readiness to blame others. The paradoxical genius of Christianity is that it understands how obedience to morality can be the key to true freedom.”

Article in the AFR, December 2001, on ‘hope’: Bob Brown: “No-one is marching into the future by themselves. One of the great things about the Greens is that we know we are part of a broader global movement. We are part of something larger than ourselves and I think that is vital to the creation of hope—moving beyond the individual to the communal”.

“Forty years after the beginning of the-cultural revolution, it is not difficult to see why ‘aspirations‘ have become more popular and relevant than hope. The atomisation of society has necessarily led to the elevation of the individual above all other considerations. Hope resounds with implications of inter-dependence, a state viewed with deep suspicion by many.”

(Geraldine Doogue is a renowned journalist and broadcaster; she has presenter of Radio National’s ‘Life Matters’ since 1992. She won a journalism cadetship with the West Australian newspaper and within 10 years carved out a reputation in print, radio and television. She has won two Penguin Awards and a United Nations Media Peace Prize.)

Posted by Bob Birchall in Archives, Vatican II

7 Mary Cresp, RSJ – Religious life and its evolution since Vatican II

Religious Life and its evolution since Vatican II: the response of Religious to Vatican II and the trends that have taken place within Religious Life over the past 40 years.

In 1985 the Church celebrated the twentieth anniversary of Vatican II with an Extraordinary Synod of Bishops. Their Final Report recalled the benefits seen by the Bishops to have arisen from this event. At the same time, they acknowledged that acceptance of the Council had met difficulties. “However”, they said, “in no way can it be stated that everything that has occurred since the council has occurred because of the council” (Par A3). This paper will reflect on what has occurred because of the Council and because of what has happened before and after the Council.

If going to seminars and lectures is any indication of the acceptance of Vatican II, Religious of the late ‘60’s and early ‘70’s were certainly there! Hardly had documents been issued than they were devoured and discussed in community groups and workshops. From the pulpit I once heard a priest tell his parishioners a story of two Catholics arriving in heaven but seeing no Religious there. “Where are they?” they asked. “Oh!” said St Peter, “they’re at a seminar!”

The world of Religious, especially women Religious, was ripe for Vatican II. In the early 1950’s, Pope Pius XII had instructed Religious to adjust their way of life and the structures that sustained it to current requirements of healthy, human living. This instruction coincided with the requirement for Religious in Australia to update their educational qualifications in order to deal with the educational and social developments taking place in the country. New methods in catechetical instruction were also being promulgated, requiring theological studies. So by the time of the proclamation of Vatican II, Religious had already been in a process of change and renewal in response to the needs of the time.

Many Religious in Australia had come from families of high co-dependency – poverty, secret abuse and/or alcoholism, for example. The society to which they belonged had been extremely conformist – a typical reaction to the disturbances of two World Wars. Moreover, while the object of pre-war Australia’s discrimination had been Catholicism, that discrimination was now being deflected to new migrants, and thus the siege mentality of Catholics was dying down. The walls that had formerly kept Religious “safe”, but also co-dependent and conformist, were crumbling (or, to use John XXIII’s phrase, the windows of the Church were being opened).

Whether Pius XII or Vatican II had happened or not, I suggest that this process would still have taken place, albeit it in a different context. The Church as an institution, as an organisation, owes its existence to the presence of the Spirit. The phenomenon of Religious Life is also a response to the Spirit. Primarily, it is a way of life – just as marriage is a way of life. In this it differs from business corporations, or clubs, or other institutions. Nevertheless, because it is made up of human beings, individual expressions of this way of life in particular Religious Congregations still experience the normal developmental stages of any human organisation. In particular, the way it organises its life will change according to the environment in which it finds itself.

One example suffices. Over the years, from the times of the Roman Virgins and the desert mothers and fathers to now, the expression of consecrated commitment to this way of life, signifying for the Church as it does a stark reminder of its mission, has changed according to the needs of the times. This has meant that the majority of what we now call “Monastic Orders” and “Apostolic Institutes” have gone through the cycle of enthusiastic beginnings, phenomenal growth, decline and extinction. A few, though, have survived through the centuries – some in altered forms (like the Dominican Sisters), others experiencing a rebirth after having diminished and continued on with just a few members.

Most apostolic institutes operating in Australia today locate their beginnings to the period of religious and social upheaval in 18th and 19th century Europe. The stage of phenomenal growth within their life cycle coincided with the spawning of institutions that characterised the world of that time. The Industrial Revolution established systems of financial and social institutions on a scale never seen before. The environment of the Religious of these times was one in which Schools, hospitals, Mental Asylums, orphanages, Homes for the Aged, Poor Houses, Reformatories, Refuges for Pregnant Women, Prisons (to name but a few) were seen as the answer to all of society’s needs. Being children of their time, Religious responded to the call to portray the face of Christ to Church and world through the setting up of institutions – a language understood by their society. Indeed, the life of Religious themselves was organised as institution – often cited in textbooks of sociology as being, along with prisons and mental asylums, the example of “pure institution”. As a system, institutions lend themselves to “institutionalism”.

The hierarchical structure of institutionalism reflects that of the well-run machine – an easy flow of authority from top to bottom with responsibilities allocated to particular areas having little or no relationship to others – like workers on an assembly line putting parts into cars but never seeing the final product. As for the products of institutionalism, they are kept anonymous – all dressed alike, often neutralised with assigned names or numbers, keeping the same timetable, obeying the same rules according to the given line of command and having the same solutions applied to their needs no matter who the subject.

What happens, then, when a mistrust of institutions emerges – when institutions are proved to be harmful to the very people they claim to protect – when the world they represent is experienced as one of insecurity, failed dreams and social chaos? The first rays of post-modern disillusionment were just dawning on the world when Pope John XXIII called for Vatican II. That meant that the age of diminishment was already beginning for Religious Life as institution, even though the full effects of this diminishment would not hit Australia for another eight or so years.

Vatican II produced two documents directly concerned with Religious Life: “The Decree on the Up-to-date Renewal of Religious Life” (Perfectae Caritatis, 1965), and “Norms for Implementing the Decree on the Up-to-date Renewal of Religious Life” (Ecclesiae Sanctae, 1966), and five post-Vatican II documents, “Instruction on the Renewal of Religious Life” (1969)”Instruction on the Contemplative Life and the Enclosure of Nuns” (1969), “Decree on Confession for Religious” (1970), “Declaration of Coeducation in Schools Run by Religious” (1971) and the important “Apostolic Exhortation on the Renewal of Religious Life” (1971).

The over-riding message in these documents was for Religious to understand themselves within the context of Church mission as followers and proclaimers of the Gospel. Their renewal was to be based on “both a constant return to the sources of the whole of the Christian life (the Gospel) – and to the primitive inspiration of the institutes and their adaptation to the changed conditions of our time” (PC 1). While it was emphasised that adaptation must be “animated” by spiritual renewal, it had to be informed by the learnings of human sciences (physiological, psychological) (i.e. development) and “in harmony with the needs of the apostolate”, the “requirements of culture” and “social and economic circumstances” (PC 2) (i.e.environmental shifts). “The mode of government of the institutes should also be examined according to the same criteria” (PC 3) (i.e. location of power).

While, as I have said, Religious entered enthusiastically into the process of renewal called for by Vatican II, this was done in an environment of gathering disarray. With the realisation that Church mission is a mandate of all the baptised and not just priests and Religious, the discovery for some was that their call was to the apostolate, not Religious Life. For a whole host of reasons connected with other aspects of change and in the context of general ferment characteristic of the time, these years witnessed what might be called an “exodus” from the ranks of Religious.

However, the works of organisational change theorists support the direction set out for Religious by Vatican II as being the only way to choose life within Religious Congregations and to allow it to evolve into whatever shapes might best address present and future need. This process, applied to Religious Life, can be summarised under four headings:

1. Attending to the organisation’s central purpose.

The primary purpose of Religious Life, as of the whole Church, is to enable and signify communion with God; to be “a sacrament for the salvation of the world” (Final Report 1985, Par D1). Involved in attending to this purpose, then, is one’s relationship to God and an understanding of the identity and mission of Religious Life.

contemplative relationship to God – Joan Chittester says that “Contemplation is at the core of contemporary religious life… Contemporary religious are called to the contemplation of God in this time as few generations before them have been” (The Fire in These Ashes, 1995:175). But since relationship with God is integrally connected to personal development, and given the background from which many Religious came (referred to above), the process of renewal since Vatican II has needed to address both a growth in self-understanding and an integrated spirituality based on informed understanding of Scripture, liturgy and theology.

clarification of identity – With Vatican II came the clear statement that in baptism we all receive the “vocation” to mission and holiness. While welcomed – indeed, most had grown up with the understanding of the Church as the Body of Christ, thereby involving all in some way in its mission – it did mean now there arose a lack of ‘role clarity’ for Religious which affected their sense of identity, so crucial for personal and corporate well-being. Religious were no longer regarded as the “work-force” for the Church. They rejected being “cheap labour” so that the mission of the Church could operate. Many committed themselves to educating the laity so that they could take their “rightful place” in the Church. Religious drew back from positions of leadership in order to promote lay people. At the same time, the reduction in numbers of Religious meant that there were fewer among their ranks to be assigned to these positions anyway. There was confusion among some when former members seemed to easily fit into the vacuum as lay people, sometimes appearing to fulfil their role more freely and efficiently than they would have if they had remained in the Congregation.

As in all movements of change, the position taken by some Religious in the years following Vatican II did alienate them from Church bureaucracy. Some saw their withdrawal from Church mainstream as rejection of the Church itself. However, being Religious without the context of the Church does not make sense. While some Religious struggle with the burden of being identified with institutionalist trappings, their identity is tied up with being Church.

Sandra Schneiders says forcefully that clarification of identity for Religious is important because, “first, living with integrity and persevering commitment, to say nothing of joy and enthusiasm, depends upon a sense of the meaning and significance of one’s life commitment. And second, healthy relationships of Religious within and beyond the Church depend in significant ways on a deeply appropriated and non-defensive identity of Religious within and among themselves.” (Finding the Treasure, x, xxv-vi). Vatican II has forced Religious to clarify their identity in a changed and changing world. Forty years have passed and we might say this process has barely begun. For the Church and world at large, the stereotype of the pre-Vatican II Religious is alive and well.

renewal of the vision – for Religious, this has meant re-examining and reclaiming the charism of the foundress/founder. Mission and ministry receive meaning when there is corporate ownership of a clear vision.

The years since Vatican II have seen a profusion of biographies and histories recording the beginnings of Religious Congregations. Vatican II had insisted, “the spirit and aims of each founder should be faithfully accepted and retained, as indeed should each institute’s sound traditions, for all of these constitute the patrimony of an institute” (PC3). A vital question for Religious has been, “Given what we understand was the response of our founders and the spirit out of which they operated, what would their response have been today?” The thing is, these founders are not alive today – but if their spirit lives on, current members have the responsibility to “re-found” the direction of the Congregation according to the vision (or charism) they have inherited.

One result of this awareness is the fact that, in handing over to lay leadership the management of institutions formerly administered by them, Religious are consciously instructing all lay people involved in the traditions and history of the Congregation. The spirituality that inspired the vision is seen to be as important as the work that expressed it. As they attend to this aspect of their mission, Religious are learning that their particular Religious Congregation does not exhaust the expression of a charism; it exists, as David Ranson says, unacknowledged perhaps in the hearts and lives of many people who are not members of a Religious Order. It is the task of Religious humbly to “foster their charism beyond their own structures in creative and constructive ways so that the ecclesial community is alive with the fullness of the Spirit” (Compass Theology Review, 1995:15).


2. Renewing the Essentials in Religious Life.

a) Community Life: Because Religious Life is a microcosm of the Church and reflects what the Church is, some expression of forming community is integral to it.

It is to be noted that living in common is not the same thing as living in community, which are about various things their communities do to improve communication and create warm, human places where people relate and share faith. The institutional way of life did lend itself to “living in common”. However, according to the “signs of the times”, the institutional way of life bears messages at cross-purposes with what Religious aim to give. Within smaller groups, one is forced to live in relationship with others. But relationships take energy, especially when there is little holding you together.

The development of faith communities demands the sharing of vision and goals and an ability to deal with the nitty-gritty of daily abrasions that can wear down ideals that motivate us. Many Religious Congregations have invested much into providing for their members whatever courses and counseling are necessary for individual members to live healthy community life.

Essentially, in the process of opening community life beyond the institutional model, Religious have steered a path from the childlike dependence so often portrayed as a reflection of the attitude of Jesus to God and the virtue of humility to one of interdependence, where the adult exchange of gifts towards the common goal reflects the self-giving of the Trinity in a loving dance of communion.

Sandra Schneiders says it this way: “Religious life is no longer a quasi-primary patriarchal family organised according to the pattern of a divine-right monarchy. Its forms will be less totalitarian, hierarchical, and control-motivated and ever more egalitarian, participative and responsibly free.” (New Wineskins, Re-imagining Religious Life Today 1986, pg 265.)

Some Congregations go further. Sheila Carney talks about an expectation that in the near future “religious communities will be characterised by inclusivity and intentionality. These communities may include persons of different ages, genders, cultures, races, and sexual orientation. They may include persons who are lay or cleric, married or single, as well as vowed and/or unvowed members. They will have a core group and persons with temporary and permanent commitments. These communities will be ecumenical, possibly interfaith; faith sharing will be constitutive of the quality of life in this context of expanded membership. Such inclusivity will necessitate a new understanding of membership and a language to accompany it. Religious life will still include religious congregations of permanently vowed members (The Mast Journal, 1992:3-4).

b) Being prophetic. This aspect of Religious Life, implying that they give public witness to the rest of the Church as to its nature and mission, and to the world as to the destiny of creation, is one clear purpose that has emerged for Religious since Vatican II. MSC priest, Kevin Barr, has this to say: “As religious we are called not simply to do good work or to be the workforce of the Church or to be its civil service. We are called to live the radical message of the gospel in a prophetic way. We are called to witness to society and to our times that there is a way of life that is countercultural, a way of life which can transform the world through the power of the gospel “ (Fire on Earth, 1995:50).

(The question of witness is often reduced to being identifiable through the wearing of distinctive dress. I find it rather ironic that Religious in medieval Europe adopted the dress worn by the poor – peasants and widows –so that Religious could identify themselves with the poor – not so that others could identify them! They were indistinguishable from the poor. I do not see farm labourers and widows going around these days wearing Franciscan browns or wimples and veils!)

The prophetic aspect of Religious Life is typically represented in the three vows made by many Religious. What might be summarised as the journey in understanding of the vows since Vatican II has been described by Berneice Loch RSM. The vow of Chastity, she says, portrayed as “non-involvement in sexual activity as if the activity itself is somehow to be avoided, has little to say to the needs or aspiration of contemporary Australians. However, the focus of the vow is primarily relationships, and this is a central issue.” (“Restructuring Mercy Religious Life”, 1998). From the portrayal of physical virginity as “abstinence from genital activity, loving God alone” we have come to an understanding of the vow to being one of “right relationships with all of creation and with the Creator”. From total dependency, not having and not using material goods, we now understand poverty as “using only what we need with gratitude, being happy in simplicity and generous interdependence”. The “superior/subject relationship, decision-taking by the few” of a childish obedience has given way to an attitude of listening with prayerfulness, personal responsibility and sharing of wisdom.

The documents since Vatican II reflect the expanding prophetic dimension of Religious Life. In Vita Consecrata Religious are urged to “promote justice in the society where they live”, since working for justice belongs to their very character. They are seen to be agents of ecumenism: “There is an urgent need for consecrated person to give more space in their lives to ecumenical prayer and genuine evangelical witness, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit the walls of division and prejudice between Christians can be broken down” (par 100).

3. Promoting Mission in the Preferred Scenario.

A common finding of Religious since Vatican II is the overwhelming evidence that their roots lie in service of the poor. The years of stability had meant that some Congregations had become identified with the rich – or at least with the upwardly mobile in society. If they were to reclaim their true identity, they had to transfer the scenario of their mission to where it spoke most clearly.

Carney suggests that Religious must “Invest their resources in direct service with, and advocacy for, structural change on behalf of the poor and marginalised. They must minister where others will not go; listening to and learning from the poor and marginalised, will shape all aspects of their lives. This will lead them to a simpler life-style that includes reverence for the earth and a spirituality that will free them to be more authentic witnesses by letting go of non-essentials, by being content with what is enough, and by sharing their resources with the poor” (p 2).

This is a challenge that is being taken seriously by Religious. Preference for areas that cannot produce a stipend means that Congregations frequently donate the services of Religious to minister in outlying suburbs and remote communities. Aging membership does not prevent innovation – some Congregations, for example, have set up “No Interest Loan Schemes” for small borrowers who would have no chance of being able to negotiate with banks.

The integration of spirituality with life has been a special focus for Religious since Vatican II. Breaking down a dualistic world-view has meant that the awareness of God in creation and the events of daily life have attracted many Religious into leadership in movements caring for the earth and in Spiritual Direction. These are trends that are expanding; if we are reading the “signs of the times” correctly, they are also trends that speak most clearly to the needs being expressed by people in our society.

Harmer thinks that religious of the future will include fewer core members who will be older and living a life of prophetic witness. She also thinks it very probable that these groups of core members “will be surrounded by and associated with many other people who will be attracted to the mission, but who will see themselves committed for a shorter time, or even for life, but not necessarily to the institution of religious life” (p65).

Some see a danger in this – they identify “worrying signs of a growing conservatism or restorationism, even fundamentalism, more so among younger clerics, including clerical religious, and what is more worrying, … the lack of fruitful engagement between those of such diverging views…Perhaps the current temptation for younger religious is that of ‘careerism’. The cult of the individual can lead to the objectives of the order becoming confused with the individual aims of some of its members” (Religious Life Review, 2000:177-187).

4. Using the role of Leadership to Advantage

Theories of change agency emphasise the role of leadership in promoting evolutionary growth. They advise organisations to do three things in particular:

a) Choose excellent (rather than average) leadership.

Note that leaders rather than administrators are needed. As groups become smaller, the tendency is to go for managers – to take some control over the “dying” process. “Leaders are risk takers, committed to the greater good, able to establish processes that liberate their organisation’s collective spirit and place that energy at the service of the global community” – Choosing Life, p 25).

Carmel Leavey OP and Rosalie O’Neill RSJ in their book Gathered in God’s Name, point out that Religious need to make “adequate distinctions between authority, leadership and power” (1996:19). Authority that operates well, however, enables a group, as Joan Chittester says, “to remain true to itself. It functions best when it brings direction and unity to a group, when it raises the questions that the group needs to face. Authority does not exist to give orders. It exists to facilitate the group’s ability to facilitate itself “(p 131).

b) Identify resistances, restraining forces, and withdraw energy from them. Political dynamics in any group will bring about struggle for power. This struggle often takes the form of resistance to change in ways that do not benefit the organisation as a whole. Groups who want to remain open to the evolutionary process need to address resistances and ensure that the clash of ideas does not result in hard and fast groupings unable to identify with a larger shared vision.

Harmer reminds us that “we have the freedom to resist; we have the freedom to change. We may be either the architects or the victims of change. Insofar as we have choices, we need to pay attention to the nature of the shifts that are underway and see what within religious life will be enhanced and what will be destroyed, what changes are of the essence and what are accidentals, where religious life is being called or where it is being driven.” Not all change or all resistance is good. “What religious need to do now and for the future is to look at what is the true essence of religious life, what are the paradigm shifts that are occurring, and how best we shape religious life for the future” (Religious Life in the 21st Century, 1995:19).

c) Encourage innovation. If efforts to discern a congregational “corporate mission” (eg. ecological awareness, homelessness, rural focus) fail to succeed initially, Ukeritis advises that Congregations should at least begin with a committed core group. “Congregations that have experienced success have been willing to think small initially, to celebrate the seemingly insignificant victories, and to encourage their members to connect the focus with current ministerial efforts (avoiding the temptation to focus on more than one significant issue)” (Review for Religious, 1996:129).

Cada points out that “it is well to remember, when initiating changed models of religious life, that over the centuries there has been a pattern where the new model was not considered to be “true” religious life. (Our own Mary MacKillop is an example). Yet, many grew to be widely accepted, sources of inspiration, and more in tune with the needs of the times.” (Consecrated Life Today, 1993:230).

Change is a process not an event.

Change is a process and not an event, it is normal and constant, it can occur in continuous small changes or in radical new processes. Change is untidy, but it is part of the life cycle of organisations and will be inevitable as organisations respond to the three forces of development, environmental shifts and location of power.

At the personal level, fear causes many people to find excuses not to change – negative behaviour can be so ingrained they know no other way of being; they lack the energy to uproot the familiar; they are afraid of losing control over their own lives. In the same way, groups can find excuses for avoiding change, even though its necessity is manifest and obvious. What can be said of all organisations can be said of Religious Life, especially during the years of dramatic change experienced in the years immediately following Vatican II.

In times of diminishment, morale can be very low and confusion rife. The experience of diminishment immediately following Vatican II has continued to the present. Recent experiences have exacerbated post-modern mistrust of the way of life of Religious. Their credibility has suffered, for example, with the exposure of sexual abuse being carried out by some of their members. The fact that through the 1940’s to early ‘60’s – the boom-days – little attention was given to screening of candidates or to counselling for those who had suffered childhood abuse has meant that some communities have had to carry the burden of maladjustment and psychological illness in higher proportions than normal.

As a consequence, some bewail the process of renewal outlined in the Vatican II documents and emphasised again in subsequent documents, eg Vita Consecrata (1996) and most recently “Starting Afresh from Christ” (2002). They would have us go back to the forms of Religious Life that characterised the pre-Vatican II world. Others would have us choose death. The purpose for which many Religious Congregations were begun – the education towards a consciousness that Church mission necessarily involves the laity – has been achieved. Therefore there is no longer a need for Religious Life.

The restorationist movement in the church downplays the prophetic and ministerial emphases in religious life. Restorationism is described as a crusade to take the Church uncritically back to the values and structures of the pre-Vatican II era. Arbuckle points out that “whenever religious accept models of the Church not sanctioned by the Council, and base formation programs on them, they are not true to the mission of Christ.” (From Chaos to Mission, 1996: 83).

Signs of hope.

Yet, far from “dying out”, many religious congregations show signs of energy, hope, and life-giving ministries. For past reasons of staffing institutions, economic well-being, and a tradition of formation in large numbers, an expectation grew that for a congregation to continue into the future it needs similarly large numbers. Sandra Schneiders points out that, “in fact, it is highly unlikely that very large numbers of people are actually, or ever were, called to Religious Life. Many contemplative communities that have been in existence for hundreds of years have never had more than a couple of dozen members. If ministerial communities could re-examine the relationship between their identity as Religious communities on the one hand and their ministries and finances on the other, they might discover that the felt need for numbers is, at best, exaggerated. As long as there are some people entering who are truly called to Religious Life, who interiorize the charism of the community, and who persevere, the future of the congregation as a locus of Religious Life is quite secure. Religious Life itself has no need of large numbers.” (p 90).

The life and death journey of Religious Congregations is a faith journey. That means that Religious, individually and corporately, need to enter into the pain of diminishment in the same way as Jesus entered the Passion. Through death came new life – this is what we proclaim as Christians. But what must a group do in order for new life to sprout from that death? What attitudes invite extinction while others allow the Spirit to birth anew?

Nothing, of course, can guarantee that certain actions will produce predictable results. “The Spirit blows where it wills.” But life experience certainly tells us that, in order to open ourselves to the Spirit, we need to “read the signs of the times” and avail ourselves of the learnings available to us. And, as Andrew Hamilton points out, this faith quest currently being undertaken by Religious “is for life and not for mere survival”. (The Way, 1998: 31).

The Vatican Document Vita Consecrata gives a reminder about our attitude towards the evolution of Religious Congregations into new shapes and forms: “The consecrated life”, it says, “may experience further changes in its historical forms, but there will be no change in the substance of a choice which finds expression in a radical gift of self for love of the Lord Jesus and, in him, of every member of the human family.” (Vita Consecrata, #3).

Regarding existing Religious Congregations, Dudley-Edwards has this to say: “Those of us who seek to join existing congregations rather than found new ones do so in the belief that the accumulated wisdom of today’s established religious orders needs to be received and carried on as a living tradition. There are skills and knowledge.. that will always be valid, which can only be learned from those who have stood faithful all their lives, and in the present case who have learned so much and lost so much in the pursuit of integrity.” (Dudley-Edwards, 1997:147).

And finally, the whole reason for us embarking on this journey anyway:

“I must proclaim the Good News of the Reign of God…for I was sent for this purpose” (Luke 4:43)

(Mary Cresp RSJ is a Sister of St Joseph and currently the Executive Director of the Australian Conference of Leaders of Religious Institutes – the official association for Leaders of approximately 200 Religious Orders (Catholic and Anglican) representing around 10000 Priests, Religious Brothers and Sisters. She has a BA(Hons), Adelaide University, Diploma Spiritual Theology, from Regis College, Toronto, Canada, and a Masters in Theology from Washington Theological Union.)

Posted by Bob Birchall in Archives, Vatican II

6 Michael Costigan – Vatican II as I remember it

Vatican II as I remember it as a priest-journalist who was there: the excitement, the personalities


I was a 28-year-old priest, studying canon and civil law in Rome three years after my ordination there, when Pope John Paul XXIII told a gathering of Cardinals in January 1959 that he planned to call a General or Ecumenical Council. For the next two and a half years, while continuing those studies, I was able to observe at close hand some of the preparations in Rome for the great event.

After my return to my Diocese, Melbourne, late in 1961, Archbishop Daniel Mannix appointed me Associate Editor of that diocese’s weekly Catholic newspaper, the Advocate.

I saw it as my special mission in that job to inform the Catholic community about the Council. Having returned from nearly a decade in Rome, I had been surprised by what struck me as a low level of interest among Catholics, including some clergy, in what was about to happen. Even some of the Bishops seemed apathetic or at least sceptical about the need for an Ecumenical Council. They considered that, at least in Australia, Catholicism was in such good shape that any calls for change or reform were unnecessary – or, even worse, dangerous. The concept of “Ecclesia semper reformanda” (the Church forever needing reform) was not popular in our rather self-satisfied Church.

In fact, the Holy See had been concerned for some time about bitter conflicts occurring among Australian Catholics. Sad divisions had arisen among Catholics and their leaders here during the 1950s over the anti-communist Movement and the Labor Party split. It might not have needed an Ecumenical Council to resolve the particular problems of the Church in Australia at that time, but we should not imagine that pre-Vatican II Australian Catholicism was faultless.

At the same time, however, the Bishops could point to the flourishing state of the seminaries, convents, religious congregations, parishes and Church organisations throughout the land. There is evidence that at least some Australian bishops believed that, if a Council could contribute anything, it would best be by a brief session condemning a few errors and affirming the great teachings of the Church and the way in which they were upheld and practised in places like Australia.

This was not quite the way that Pope John saw it when he spoke of the need for updating (“aggiornamento”) and renewal – and he certainly was not favourably inclined towards either triumphalism or condemnations. Nor was it the way that significant numbers of Bishops and their theological and pastoral advisors in some other parts of the world saw it.

Recent studies, notably by the Rockhampton scholar Jeffrey J. Murphy, have thrown more light on the extent of Australian Episcopal involvement in both the preparation for and the conduct of Vatican II. He has challenged some of the more extreme critical judgements on the quality of the Australian Bishops’ contribution to and acceptance of the major Conciliar reforms. One fascinating piece of information from Dr Murphy is that Daniel Mannix, in his late nineties and unable to travel to Rome, sent in a remarkably progressive commentary on the nature of the Church, less than nine months before his death in 1963. (See several recent issues of the quarterly Australasian Catholic Record.)

Coming from my theological and legal/sociological studies in Rome, where I had been given the privilege of some exposure to the ideas of such future key participants in the Council as Cardinals Suenens, Bea, Lercaro, Parente, Agagianian, Koenig, Pavan and Doepfner, and to such activities as those of Italian Catholic Action, the French priest workers, the German “Catholic Days” and the international liturgical reform movement, I was expecting some substantial fruits from what was about to happen in St Peter’s Basilica.

I don’t claim to have foreseen the dramatic way in which events unfolded at the first session in the Roman autumn of 1962. The keynote was Pope John’s remarkable inaugural address, which was to be followed by an epic struggle between those who supported and those who resisted his call for a genuine “aggiornamento” in the Church.

Reporting these happenings from a distance, we members of the Australian Catholic media depended mainly during that inaugural session on official Vatican releases and the conventional press agencies. These sources were soon supplemented by the famous writings of Xavier Rynne and Robert Kaiser and by the commentaries of theologians like Yves Congar and Bernard Haering.

It was Archbishop Guilford Young of Hobart whose suggestion led to my being sent back to Rome in 1963 to cover the second session for several Australian Catholic papers.

Guilford Young was undoubtedly the leading Australian figure at Vatican II. He enthused those of us who attended the annual meeting of the Catholic Press Association in Hobart early in 1963 by his account of the previous year’s session. He left us editors and reporters in no doubt that history was being made in Rome and that we should carry the story in full to our readers.

The 77 days that I spent at the Council from September to December 1963 were among the most memorable of my life.

Before recalling some of those memories, I should record that one of the lessons that I learned at that Council session was how the remaining two annual sessions could be effectively covered from Australia, since it was unlikely that my paper’s resources would enable me to return to Rome in 1964 and 1965. Using the contacts made and the experience gained in 1963, I made extensive use in the following two years of the coverage of the Council by several outstanding European, English and American commentators, notably Raniero La Valle of L’Avvenire d’Italia, Henri Fesquet of Le Monde, Antoine Wenger and Rene Laurentin of La Croix, Desmond Fisher of the Catholic Herald and, of course, Xavier Rynne of the New Yorker. I also devoured the books appearing after the second session, including those by the admirable Michael Novak (who coined the meaningful phrase, “non-historical orthodoxy”) and by the much less reliable oddball Jesuit, Malachy Martin, alias Michael Serafian (who died this year and whose love affair during the Council with Robert Kaiser’s wife is the subject of a recent “payback” book by Kaiser).

During the two final sessions, the Advocate published each week a four-page “lift out” supplement on the Council, written and edited by myself. I think it was this more than anything else in our paper’s coverage that persuaded Edmund Campion to write in his book Australian Catholics (Viking 1987, p.204) that “in the Advocate Michael Costigan gave a more thorough day-by-day account of the Council than any other English-language diocesan weekly”.


Returning now to that epoch-making second session, in 1963, may I recall a few of the events and personalities that helped to make it such an unforgettable time for a wide-eyed, somewhat naïve 32-year-old cleric?

My sense of wonder during those 77 days is reflected in the rough diary notes that I scribbled, often very late at night, in an exercise book. Never intended for publication, they better convey the atmosphere and mood of those days than any of the articles that I was sending back to Australia or the pamphlets that I wrote about the state of the Council after the Second and Third Sessions. I will ask for your indulgence while I quote some fragments from that 1963 diary.

  • Saturday 28 September: Pick up my press “tessera” and ticket for tomorrow’s opening ceremony from the Vatican media office. See Robert Kaiser (“Time” journalist whose book on the first session of the Council has caused a sensation).
  • Sunday 29 September: Drove to St Peter’s from the Blessed Sacrament Fathers’ head house in their new Fiat 1500, bought especially for the Council, bringing Father General (Father Huot), Archbishop Gomez of Columbia, his secretary Monsignor Vivas and a Blessed Sacrament Father Consultor, to the opening ceremony. I have willingly agreed to be their daily chauffeur to and from the Council, in return for the hospitality offered to me by the “Sacramentini”.
  • Monday 30 September: Drove to the Council in fourteen minutes. Went in with Father Huot and took my place in the tribune of the periti. Saw Kung (a contemporary of mine during student days) and Courtney Murray. Hear interventions by, among others, Ottaviani, Thuc, Florit and Frings…
  • Attending this 37th General Congregation of the Council was the experience of a lifetime. Easy to follow the debate (in Latin)…Attend U.S. Bishops’ Press panel, to be held daily in the USO building at the Tiber end of the Via della Conciliazione. Fathers Connell CSSR, Fred McManus, Sheerin etc. on the Panel. Then to Archbishop Young, who dictates a letter to his diocese about the Council.
  • Wednesday 2 October: Went into the Council’s 39th General Congregation, again with the periti. Met Father Huot at eleven in the Basilica and visited one of the bars, meeting many Council personalities.
  • Monday 7 October: In St Peter’s Square I run into Hans Kung and have a chat with him. Send off a 7-page report on the Council’s draft document on the Church.
  • Tuesday 8 October: Go to 5 o’clock talk by Cardinal Suenens to African Bishops and media. Seated next to missionary Bishops from the Philippines and Madagascar.
  • Thursday 10 October: Tragic landslide today provoked by collapse of hydroelectric dam at Vajont, near Belluno. Estimated three thousand dead…At the US Press Panel, Father Weigel SJ was nasty to Father Connell CSSR over the latter’s outdated way of explaining papal infallibility and its objects…Visit Pope John’s tomb and confess in St Peter’s.
  • Friday 11 October: Meet Father Stan Hosie SM, who is writing for Harvest. Long talk with Desmond O’Grady and Father Donald Campion SJ of America magazine.
  • Monday 14 October: Meet Guilford Young in St Peter’s Square. Melbourne friends, John and Lorna Parker, photograph me with him.
  • Tuesday 15 October: Coffee with an old friend, Cesare Cecarelli, the Boys’ Town and papal barber – one of the few lay people admitted to papal conclaves.
  • Tuesday 17 October: To Marist General House for dinner. Guests included Cardinal Gilroy, Bishop Muldoon, Bishop Joyce (NZ), Archbishop O’Donnell, Archbishop Cody of New Orleans (the future controversial Cardinal Cody of Chicago), several other American prelates and our own Father Bell.
  • Friday 18 October: At US Press Panel I meet Gary MacEoin, Irish-American columnist…See Father F. X. Murphy CSSR, reputed to be “Xavier Rynne”.
  • Monday 21 October: Ottaviani in Council today. Criticised periti who circularise the Council Fathers. Robert Kaiser prominent today at U.S. Press gathering.
  • Tuesday 22 October: At US Press Panel, discussion on women’s role in the Church. Had hysterical woman next to me…Go to hear Archbishop Roberts SJ on “Modern Inquisitions”. Sensational stuff.
  • Wednesday 23 October: At US Press Panel I asked my first question: “Can part of the Office be said in Latin and part in English?”…Paul Blanshard also asks a question.
  • Thursday 24 October: Coffee with Desmond Fisher, Editor of London’s Catholic Herald, Jim Johnson of the Kansas City Star and Alan McElwain, the veteran Rome-based Australian journalist.
  • Wednesday 6 November: A day to remember. At about 11.40am Sam Dimattina informed me in the Press Office (as I emerged from the toilet) that Archbishop Mannix was dead…At St Peter’s College, hear Congar on Ecumenism.
  • Monday 18 November: Lunch with Desmond Fisher, the Canadian journalist Bernard Daly and the English theologian Father Charles Davis. Run into Father Tom Boland at the US Press gathering.
  • Thursday 21 November: Lively Press Panel today. I question Father Haering about the Theological Commission’s vote on the Religious Liberty text.
  • Friday 22 November: The John Kennedy story is over, or has it properly started? At 45, the first Catholic President of the US was assassinated today (8pm in the evening, Rome time) in Dallas, Texas. The incredible, stunning news came to me from Father Stan Hosie, whom I was telephoning about 9pm. So, since my departure from Melbourne: Adenaur has retired; Macmillan has resigned; Kennedy has been assassinated; Diem has been murdered; there have been upheavals in Iraq; Italy’s Leone Government has fallen; and Archbishop Mannix has died. November 1963 will not be quickly forgotten.
  • Saturday 23 November: I offered Mass for John Fitzgerald Kennedy. The whole world is stunned by this appalling news. A 24-year-old, Lee Oswald, has been arrested and is Suspect Number One.
  • Monday 25 November: Lee Oswald shot by Jack Ruby…At the Press Panel, Haering tells of a fight among Bishops in the Piazza over the distribution of a protest about the inadequacy of the Council’s draft text on the Media. Our own Bishops John Cullinane and Francis Thomas had signed the protest… Watch Kennedy funeral on TV.
  • Tuesday 26 November: Meet Robert Kaiser. Try to read Time magazine in my room, but it is unbearable. I weep bitterly over the death of Kennedy.
  • Wednesday 27 November: Go to Domus Mariae to hear Karl Rahner on the Sources of Revelation (1-½ hours in Latin).
  • Thursday 28 November: Supper in pasticceria with Father Ralph Wiltgen. Tells me of his interview with Ottaviani, whom he found very charming and helpful. Worried by the alliance of the French and Germans at the Council. Considers that the German news agencies are managing the Council news coverage and invariably attribute most importance to interventions by German Bishops.
  • Friday 29 November: Go by scooter to US Press Panel and then interview Bishops Jimmy Carroll of Sydney and Joyce of New Zealand…Meet Pietro Pavan, Pat Keegan and Fred McManus…Watch Fulton Sheen doing a TV show in St Peter’s Square…Go on scooter at night to the Domus Mariae to hear Kung on Ecclesiology. Quite a day, really.
  • Sunday 1 December: Paul VI says a Mass for Council journalists and greets each one…Attended symposium of International Catholic Press Union where Courtney Murray spoke. At final session of symposium I made a brief speech, with Cardinal Lercaro in the chair…Went to Domus Mariae to hear De Lubac on Teilhard de Chardin.
  • Tuesday 10 December: Off to Fiumicino (but the traffic!). Arrive at 11.35 for 12.10 departure for New York on TWA Boeing. Next to me was the Administrator of U.S. Aid in the East. Drank several Manhattans.


Our main aim at this seminar is to reflect on the present state of the Council’s unfinished business. While the memories awakened by re-visiting my 39-year-old diary are precious to me personally, I am not sure (and can only hope) that my sharing these excerpts with you has some value in relation to the seminar’s purpose. It seemed one way of sharing a rich experience with you.

I have dropped a good number of names and I do believe that many of them belong to personalities whose contribution to the Council as a historical event should be remembered. If we understand the significance of the work of leading Council figures like Bea, Suenens, Lercaro, Maximos IV Saigh, Alfrink, Koenig, De Smedt – and Ottaviani, Parente and Ruffini too – we are better equipped, I believe, to carry on that work in the vastly different world (and Church) of the 21st Century.

While the Council Fathers themselves were the only participants in Vatican II vested with teaching authority, they are not the only ones whose involvement in the great event can be fruitfully recalled today. The theological advisers played a very important role, as did some of the commentators and journalists who brought Vatican II’s message to the community, sometimes accurately and sometimes with their own interpretation.

This is not to claim that all of the reformist ideas expressed either inside or outside the Council Hall between 1962 and 1965 were or are acceptable. But I for one reject the notion that the Council’s importance is limited to its sixteen approved and promulgated documents. Several of them, of course, have led to enormous changes in the life and practice of Catholics, but others have had little effect on the Church during the past four decades. And even the best of them are not immune from criticism, as I have noted in an article in the July issue of the Mix.

The Council as a total event, however, the famous opening of windows to allow the breezes to enter, to use Pope John’s metaphor, has continued to exert its influence on the way in which millions of us live and think and act.

That there have been some aberrations following the Council and some distortions of its spirit and message is undeniable. Among those who took part in or observed the event were a number who were convinced that it should not have been allowed to happen. To this day there are people who consider that it was all a huge mistake.

While their right to hold such an opinion has to be respected, their view gives little credit to the genius of Pope John XXIII. His decision to convoke the Council might have caught many people by surprise, including those close to him, but he knew what he was doing. He realised from his own experience and wisdom that it was time for the Church to take stock of its position in the light of the way in which the world of the mid-20th Century had changed. Pope John was also aware of the various movements and trends in the Church that had been preparing the way for such an event. It is wrong to think that he unnecessarily awakened the Church from a kind of tranquil slumber. What he did was to make it possible for many already existing ideas and developments to gain a freedom and currency which hitherto had been at least partially denied them.


Before concluding, I would like to raise and invite discussion on a question that arises periodically in discussions about Pope John’s Council and what this seminar calls its “unfinished business”. It is whether or not another Ecumenical Council is needed in the near future.

In personal opinion on this changes from time to time. At the moment my inclination is to support the call for another Council being made occasionally by some of the Church leaders and commentators whom I most admire. One of their arguments for a sequel to Vatican II and indeed for more frequent Councils is that change in the modern world is so rapid and far-reaching that the Church’s need for constant “aggiornamento” is far more urgent today than it ever was in the past. I believe it is a valid point.

If such a Council were to be convoked soon, presumably by the next Pope, I think it would have to be quite a different kind of event from Vatican II.

Much as I revelled in my unforgettable involvement in that great Council as an excited young priest who wrote, observed and kept a funny old diary, I recognise that the Church of the early 21st Century has new and very different characteristics, problems, needs and insights – and that all of this, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, would have to be reflected in a different conciliar model. What its characteristics should be is surely a legitimate subject for consideration by the People of God.

I invite this focus group to offer some thoughts on this and on any other issues related to the unfinished business of the Second Vatican Council.

(Michael Costigan has been Executive Secretary to the Bishop’s Committee for Justice, Development and Peace since 1987. His career includes 14 years as a Melbourne priest and 18 years as a journalist and senior public servant. He has held numerous journalistic and editorial positions, and written and spoken widely about Church affairs.)

Posted by Bob Birchall in Archives, Vatican II

5. Michael Casey OCSO – Deconstruction into Reality

“Deconstruction into Reality. Beyond the pain experienced after the Council when the familiar ecclesiological dream was shattered, are the opportunity, challenge and hope of interacting more faithfully with the real world.”

Some years ago in reading Saint Gregory of Nyssa I came across a passage in which God was referred to as anarchos. While my head told me that this meant simply “without beginning”, my imagination seized delightedly on the image of God as anarchist and would not let go. And so today I wish to speak of the divine anarchy that has visited the Church these past 40 years.

You may say that surely it is of a God who brings order into chaos that the Bible speaks. Viewed from the side of God that is undoubtedly the case. From the side of chaos, however, the act of creation meant the end of all that was familiar, and the beginning of a strange and unsettling phase of existence. Since our particular mode of being combines elements both of entrenched chaos and emergent divinity, it is no wonder that sometimes we perceive God’s life-giving activity to be threatening and anarchic as far as concerns the continuance of the order we have established and in which we have reposed our trust.

The reason for this collision of interests is simple. We too easily identify the structures of thought and life that we have created as expressive of ultimate order, whereas in fact they serve only as a tentative means of reducing a huge mass of contradictory data to manageable proportions. There is no guarantee that our familiar constructs have any particular merit. Any system tends to exclude whatever is beyond the scope of its specialised understanding; as a result God tends to be built out of the human structures we erect.

Malcolm Muggeridge used to speak disdainfully of “the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth Incorporated”. If, indeed, the means we devise to incarnate the Kingdom are no more than Babel-like towers, then well may God’s restorative action commence with a work of demolition. We cannot hope to tame and keep at bay indefinitely the saving incomprehensibility of a transcendent God. Eventually God will break through the barriers that our rationality has built.

We Catholics have to beware of what may be called an ecclesial Docetism. We remember, perhaps, that in the early Church Docetism was a heretical strand of thought which so emphasised the divine nature of Jesus that it lost sight of his humanity. In so doing it reduced the mystery of the Incarnation to the level of divine play-acting, whereby God adopted the kindly pretence of being human, as an adult may pretend to join in a doll’s tea party. The mystery of God’s action in the world cannot be thus reduced to a false simplicity. Divine and human coexist and interact. As with Christ, as with us, so with the Church. Especially in situations of conflict and controversy, it is easy to fall into the trap of exaggerating the divine elements in the life of the Church and to overlook those human factors, which result in historical error, misjudgement and impermanence. One of the great barriers to the perennial renewal of the Church is a certain kind of smugness or pious complacency which, at the time of the Council, led to the coining of the word “triumphalism”.

In 1960, the year after Vatican II had been announced, Philip Hughes, the Church historian, produced a history of the ecumenical councils under the title The Church in Crisis. In contrast, it was commonly observed at the time that this new Council would be concerned with renewal; the Church was not in crisis nor did it need reforming. It was just a matter of updating, aggiornamento. Perhaps some attention would be given to individual morality and to particular local problems. But, it was thought, there were no great malfunctions evident in the universal Church. I do not remember hearing much dissent from this view.

In his 1962 book, The Second Vatican Council, the French author Henri Daniel-Rops asks whether the Church of the twentieth century is in a state of crisis, that it stands in need of the same kind of reformation as did the Church of the sixteenth century? Most assuredly this is not so. Cardinal Montini emphasised this aspect when, in inaugurating a study week organised by the University of the Sacred Heart, Milan in September of 1960, he declared: “Unlike many another council, Vatican II will meet at a time when life in the Church is at once peaceful and fervent.”

Recent revelations, however, have given us more information about the secret life of the Church in those days: sexual abuse, the full extent of which has yet to come to light, dubious financial transactions and alliances (not only by the Vatican Bank), and a systematic exclusion from power on the basis of gender, race and social class. What we see now as hidden under the splendid facade is endemic defiance of Gospel values in the areas of sex, money and power: not unlike the issues addressed by the eleventh-century reform of Gregory VII and, centuries later, also by the Council of Trent. Who says that the Church of those days needed no reform?

If the processes set in train by the Vatican Council and other social forces have allowed us to notice that the emperor has no clothes, then we should rejoice that at last we could see how things stand in reality. Of course we are ashamed when scandals become public, disappointed, angry and maybe disillusioned. The depth of our feeling confirms just how entrenched was our failure to perceive the shadow side of the Church. Our need for a blameless Church made us too “charitable” in our assessment of its liabilities. No wonder we are desolate when the hollowness of our hopes is exposed. Perhaps it is for ourselves that we grieve, not the Church!

In the stories of individual men and women, it is often true that it is in the shadow side that the possibility of future growth is to be found. Unearth a potentially tragic flaw and you discover simultaneously the road that leads to heroic virtue. All of us grow spiritually by systematically pulling out the weeds in the garden so that what God has planted may come to flower. Extrapolating from this we may assert that the continued growth of the Church in spirit and truth demands the abandonment of whatever is false. This includes pious fantasy, no matter how sincerely it is held. If the seeming negativity that is all around us causes us to be less cocksure and more cautious then it must be read as a sign of hope, the beginning of new life. First the ground must be cleared and excavated before even a foundation can be laid. It is erroneous to think that human life, be it ever so spiritual, is a matter of pure progress, without any hesitation, wobbling or backsliding. Indeed the text of Job 7:1 is often quoted in this respect: “Is not human life on earth a continual warfare?”

If we are at war who is the enemy? Strangely enough it often seems to be God whose plans for our future differ radically from our own. As Alfred North Whitehead remarked “[Religion] runs through three stages if it evolves to its final satisfaction. It is the transition from God the void to God the enemy, and from God the enemy to God the companion.” Note that middle phase of the progression: God the enemy. God’s initial appearance often seems hostile to us and we resist it. The process by which God enters the perceptual horizons of unredeemed humanity is not without the experience of dread and opposition from the human side.

I say all this as a way of affirming that there is no reason for believing a priori that every structural collapse is a disaster. I see no harm in admitting that in Australia and in many industrialised countries the Church is suffering from a decline in many of the indicators by which we formerly judged its health:

acceptance of the rightness of its moral teaching, particularly in the areas of non-marital sex, contraception and abortion,

recruitment to the priesthood and religious life and the public visibility of consecrated persons,

acceptance of every level of ecclesiastical authority,

adhesion to the integrity of Church teaching, and

an expectation of probity, devotion and even holiness in those who stand up and let themselves be counted as Catholics.

Things have changed. This is the reality, but there is no need for panic. There are still ten thousand who have not bowed their knees to Baal! We need to keep our nerve and analyse the situation, firstly to try to perceive the hand of God at work in the present and, secondly, to devise tactics for going forward in hope — tactics, I should add, to advance the Kingdom of God, and not merely to make us feel better.

To this end I would like to offer three principles. They do not express the whole story, but perhaps they are worth pondering.

First Principle Not every change in the Church that coincided with the work of Vatican II was the result of Vatican II.

In the popular mind everything that has happened in the Church in the last 40 years is due to Vatican II. This is not so. Other forces have also been at work.

The Church of the 1950s, which once appeared immutable, has disappeared forever. In this I make a simple statement of fact, devoid of both regret and exultation. Efforts to re-establish selected practices, common at the time fail to recreate the total atmosphere of the Church as it then was. What strikes me most particularly in retrospect is the massive certainty we Catholics enjoyed. Faith, morals, the sacraments, Church authority and even pious custom seemed set in concrete. There was a distinctive “Catholic” position on history, philosophy, medical ethics and issues of public life. Many of us in Australia grew up accustomed to a particularly insular Catholicism that not only provided us with a firm identity, but implanted in our hearts a subtle sense of superiority that compensated for the predominance of the working class in the Catholic Church. Being Catholic meant that we did things differently and this was a cause for celebration. Alas, it also generated a secret sea of resentment that we were “not like the rest of men”.

In dealing with the compromises that adult life in the real world inevitably brings, many of these pre-critical certainties began to lose their adhesion. And so began a drift away from the rituals of tribal Catholicism towards the statistical average. The common Catholic lifestyle slowly ceased to be “sacred”; ruled by an all-pervading ethos with its holy pictures and scapulars, its meatless Fridays and holy Sundays, daily prayer, regular confession and Lenten fasting. Today the lives of many who identify themselves on the census forms as “Catholic” have become predominantly “secular”. What is more surprising, perhaps, is that many active members of the Church including priests and religious have followed suit.

Surveys routinely demonstrate that Catholics are practically indistinguishable from other Australians in significant areas of both faith and morals. Active participation in Church activities has a diminished role in establishing and reinforcing our personal identity. The Catholic Church is no longer seen by outsiders as the “scarlet woman” — she now wears the indistinguishable grey common to all mainline religious groups. It is almost socially acceptable to be a Catholic. The problem is that active Catholicism is no longer very interesting. Our Church has become an agency of boredom. Who was surprised when 42% of respondents to the 2001 National Church Life poll cite boredom as the chief reason for not going to church more often?

This “normalisation” of the lives of Catholics within multicultural Australia has largely coincided with the effects of Vatican II. It is important not to confuse the two, nor to regard the Council as responsible for the movement of secularisation that swept through the West in the 1960s. This itself has been generated, in part, by social changes, which in turn resulted both from technological advances and as a reaction to the serial horrors of the twentieth century.

Let us reflect briefly on the changed world. Forty years after the Council the world is less Eurocentric, computers and biotechnology have gone far beyond what most of us are able to understand, the global village is almost totally open to what the Roman documents continue to name as “the social means of communication” and the rest us call “mass media”, deductive thinking and theology is subject to questioning by data coming from the bottom up, and even though bureaucratic procedures have multiplied there is an expectation that institutions will be governed democratically and that “people power” can overturn autocratic regimes. On the other hand there is a relentless pursuit of entertainment. Self-destructive behaviour seems to have increased as evidenced by alcohol and substance abuse, promiscuity and rising suicide rates. There is much insecurity and many seek reassurance in totalitarian systems of thought based on an unyielding fundamentalism. Jingoistic isolationism and militarism are on the upsurge. However we evaluate these changes in the world, I feel certain that cumulatively they have more direct impact on the life of many in the Church today than anything the Council said or did or caused to be done. Especially in the case of those who know little about the events of 40 years ago and who have never read a Council document.

The dialogue with the modern world encouraged by Vatican II and strongly and consistently espoused by Paul VI presupposes an ongoing distinction; assimilation transforms dialogue into monologue. For effective evangelisation (which, after all, is what the Church is about) channels of communication must be open. For this to occur, the Gospel needs to be proclaimed from within a cultural community. An identity built up by isolation behind high walls is less secure than that which is achieved through interaction. The essential distinctiveness of the Church derives from its fidelity to the words and example of Jesus; not from its continuance of exotic customs — no matter how entertaining these may be.

There is no doubt that in the past many people sought or found in religious practice the satisfaction of needs that were not properly religious. Those who felt deprived of affirmation, consolation, meaning or support often found within the churches some unconscious compensation for the comforts that life denied them. When the possibility of meeting these needs in a more direct manner arises, religious adherence and practice become irrelevant. A residue of unreal nostalgia may remain but, fundamentally, there is no reason for continuing with a religion that has no function in their lives. “Now that we are on Easy Street, we don’t need God!”

It is right to sympathise with those who have continued with the Church yet still feel the loss of what were seen as defining Catholic characteristics experienced as strong ramparts against anomie: infallible teaching, friendly statues, fiery Redemptorist missions, and the gauzy glitter of popular devotions. The so-called “piety void” is real. The difficulty is that the vacuum cannot be filled by going back because, in the meantime, people and society have changed. We have to go forward. Going forward means understanding where you are, how you got there and where it is you want to go.

Second Principle – The implementation of the decrees of Vatican II was not immune from misunderstanding, misjudgement, or politics.

Nobody was trained to handle the massive external changes that accompanied the Church’s attempt to heave itself into the twentieth century. We who too easily identified catholicity with uniformity never expected to find such polarisation of opinion and practice at all level of ecclesial life. None of us anticipated the emotional impact that changes would have on those most directly touched by them, or the high levels of tension that would be generated in those precipitately charged with the task of implementation.

Above all we underestimated the symbolic content of many everyday realities. We did not always realise that exchanging traditional practices for something more “sensible” would have an emotional impact that would move us more in the direction of meaninglessness. Let us look at one example. Almost certainly we misjudged the pain and sense of loss that liturgical change would generate, especially for those who were committed to the liturgy as they had known it all their lives. As early as 1966 Edward Schillebeeckx, whose progressive credentials are beyond dispute, was aware that something was amiss.

“There is also the common unrest that is characteristic of persons abandoning old habits when this does not come from a personal, existential need that is experienced at depth, but which is imposed on them by the community in which they live. This is what happened in the sphere of the liturgy after the Council. To be sure, it is not the vocation of the Church to act as the conservator of ancient and outdated treasures but to try, first of all, to satisfy the Christian needs of the faithful. Meeting these needs has priority over saving from destruction the treasures of Gregorian culture. On the other hand, for older people who have lived the Catholic faith, these ancient treasures are not simply cultural treasures. They are part of the fabric of their Christian life: they are, as it were, the living skin of their religious experience, and not simply a garment that we can at any time take or leave, even sometimes regretfully. These are not simply religious forms of expression, but they are the particular forms in and through which their religious life has become what it is. Here there is no room for a dualism between what is inner and what is outer. A good number of such people inevitably feel as though they have been skinned alive, as though they have been stripped of their own flesh.”

Changing the liturgy meant more than slipping out of one garment into another. Those for whom the liturgy had been “the living skin of their religious experience” felt as though they had been flayed. Those of us who had a hand in some of these changes need to reflect and regret. Perhaps we could have acted more sensitively.

Confession of sin is an essential of Catholicism. Most bitter of all, I suppose, is the need to admit that actions we thought to be honest, noble and just are now revealed as enfeebled by hidden agenda, and secretly powered by baser motivations. We meant well, but we overestimated our own integrity. Pope John Paul II has been courageous in this respect. His could be called a papacy of apology. In surveying the impact of Vatican II, we ought not to be afraid of following his example sometimes. The fact that not everything done in the name of Vatican II has been well done is no excuse for trying to negate its initiatives. I once heard heretics defined as those who prefer the second-last Council to the last one. For this reason we need to insist more steadfastly on the authority that Vatican II wields.

Third Principle: The vision of Vatican II, although not often expressed prescriptively, offers authoritative guidance to God’s people from the highest level of the Magisterium, and may not be ignored.

From the time of Blessed John XXIII’s unexpected announcement of the Council at the Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls on 25 January 1959, he was convinced that the idea came from the Holy Spirit. This sense of a divine mission permeated all that Vatican II did. The difficulties some experience in feeling at home in post-conciliar Catholicism cannot be used as an argument in favour of an alternative church. The difficulties need to be owned and respected, a conversation must be begun, but there is no ground for doubting the credentials of Vatican II as an authentic expression of magisterial teaching for our time. This means in practice re-acquainting ourselves with the content of its decrees and recommitting ourselves to its mission.

“It would be a mistake not to consider the implementation of Vatican II as the response of faith to the word of God as it proceeded from that Council . . . The teaching of Vatican II stands revealed as the image, proper to our time, of the Church’s self-realisation, an image which in various ways should pervade the minds of the whole people of God.”

Those who experience hardship in the “new” Church must be willing to work towards the resolution of their difficulties. In many cases the possibility of offering pastoral assistance at a personal level has been limited by the politicisation of issues such as the Latin Mass. We can see many components operative in this situation:

the abruptness and rapidity of change,

the cultural and spiritual impoverishment of transitional forms,

the ineptness and confusion of those trained for a different model of liturgical leadership,

a certain lack of timely explanation about what was happening, and

the defensiveness of those in the firing line.

As a result, when the liturgical changes were implemented, despite being applauded by many (not without the occasional grimace), some became disaffected, although with varying degrees of intensity. Too often these good people so saw the problems as “out there”, (objective aberrations in the Church) that they failed to deal with the subjective aspects of the situation, the more inner sources of their intolerance of change. It is hard to help those who attribute all their pain to external factors and who do not allow any scrutiny of what is going on inside them. And so very often a personal crisis that could have had a creative outcome was denied and, instead, projected onto the post-Conciliar Church and then politicised.

Saint John of the Cross speaks about the crisis experienced by many as their prayer passes through necessary transitions in the process of being purified. He speaks of three possible responses to the pain experienced at this time, only the third of which is a creative way forward. I might paraphrase the options he lists as follows,

to give up the spiritual pursuit altogether and to use its energies in ways that are more gratifying or useful,

to clench one’s teeth and to go back to doing the things that used to work, refusing to pay any attention to the fact that they no longer seem appropriate, or

to trust in the providence of God and to hang on in there, doing whatever one can to return the soul to peace.

Corresponding to the first category, many blame the Church for many aspects of modernity (and post-modernity) and for its bumbling efforts to respond to a new situation. Some have deliberately renounced their membership of the Church, many more have drifted away or taken a holiday, some have become vituperative Corresponding to the second category are those who remain in the Church and keep as many of the “old ways” as they can — with varying degrees of success — and seek out like-minded priests and congregations. It is, however, on those who belong the third category that I wish to focus for a moment — those who have faith in God’s providence and guidance of the Church and who will not allow anything to undermine their hope.

The first thing to recognise is that tranquillity of heart is not merely the placidity resulting from a lack of external harassments. It is the fruit of a disciplined interior effort to prevent the secret sources of emotional upheaval from running away with one’s power of reason. This means that we need to subject any situation of suffering or conflict to analysis and discernment. We need to think it through in an atmosphere of faith, hope and charity. If peace is the work and fruit of the Holy Spirit, then our pondering must necessarily be well seasoned with prayer. Prayer not politics.

With regard to the state of the Church at the moment I am reluctant to surrender too easily to the pessimists. Our daily newspapers, the voices of dissent and perhaps some of our own Hanrahan tendencies tell us that we will all be ruined. Yet the wonderful things that have happened in the Church over the past 40 years are so numerous and so obvious that it would be tedious to list them. Without minimising the pain that some have experienced, it has been a period of creative ferment with many good results — even when these were undesired and unintended. When a shortage of priests and religious necessitates a greater involvement of lay men and women in the work of the Church it seems more like a case of a felix culpa than an occasion of gloom.

I began with the image of a God who brings forth anarchy and I would like to conclude with the scriptural metaphor of a piece of pottery that submits to the shaping hand of the potter. At the moment we do not know where the Church is going and what it is going to become. Our hope for the future is based less on our history or on our present state but on the skill of the potter in whose hands we are. It seems to me that the present difficulties of the Church confront us with a fourfold challenge to which I am confident that we have the resources to respond creatively.

What do we need in these times?

Some measure of endurance in coping with change and conflict,

a spirit of hopefulness that does not doubt God’s capacity to bring to completion the good work once started,

an unambiguous boldness in taking well-founded initiatives, and

and in all circumstances good humour — which is the only appropriate way of responding to divine initiatives. .

In the midst of the Council Pope Paul VI went to India. He prayed at Bombay airport, using words drawn from The Upanishads:

“Lead us from Unreality to reality, from darkness to light from death to life.”

In my view, there is no evidence that God is not acceding to that prayer.

(Michael Casey OCSO has been a monk of Tarrawarra Abbey in Victoria since 1960: he did studies in Scripture at the Catholic University Louvain and gained a Doctorate in Theology from Melbourne College of Divinity. He is the author of “Towards God, the Art of Sacred Reading and Truthful Living” and over 100 articles and books. Currently, he is Prior and Master of Juniors at Tarrawarra.)

Posted by Bob Birchall in Archives, Vatican II

Homily – Bishop Geoffrey Robinson – Homily at the Eucharist

Homily at the EucharistBishop Geoffrey Robinson

In everything he did and in everything he said, Jesus Christ sang a song. Sometimes, when he cured a sick person, he sang softly and gently, a song full of love. Sometimes, when he told one of his beautiful stories, he sang a haunting panpipe melody that, once heard, is never forgotten. Sometimes, when he defended the rights of the poor, his voice grew strong and powerful, until finally, from the cross, he sang so powerfully that his voice filled the universe.

The disciples who heard him thought that this was the most beautiful song they had ever heard, and they began to sing it to others. They did not sing as well as Jesus had – their voices went flat, they forgot some of the words – but they sang to the best of their ability, and the people who heard them thought in their turn that this was the most beautiful song they had ever heard.

And so the song of Jesus gradually spread out from Jerusalem into other lands. Parents began to sing it to their children, and the song passed down through the generations and the centuries.

Sometimes, in the life of a great saint, the song was sung with exquisite beauty. Sometimes, however, it was sung very badly, for the song was so beautiful that there was power in possessing it, and people used the power of the song to march to war and to oppress and dominate others. Always, however, the song was greater than the singers and never lost its ancient beauty.

Among the last places on earth that the song reached was a far off land that would later be called Australia. At first the song was sung there very badly indeed, for the beauty of the song was drowned by the sound of the lash on the backs of the convicts and the cries of fear of the aboriginal people. But even in that world the song was greater than the singers and gradually, in little wooden homes and churches throughout a vast and dry land, the song was sung with love and affection.

At last the song came down to me, sung gently and lovingly by my parents. Like so many millions of people before me, I too was so captured by the song that I wanted to sing and dance it with my whole life.

A great Council of the Church came, and I was inspired by the beauty of the song that seemed to be at the very heart of that Council. The overwhelming message I received was that here were two thousand bishops, divided by many issues but united in the song. We met with other churches and found, perhaps to our surprise, that they loved the song as much as we did. In the Scriptures and in the council I found the firm foundations on which I could live my life.

There was always a tension between the beauty of the song and the weakness and the pettiness that I found within myself and in so many others who shared this song with me, but the song sustained me throughout the years.

But then the darkness of evil within the Church gathered around me, and at times it was so deep that it seemed that the very song itself had been conquered. But in the depths of that darkness, when my clinging to the song was based on blind faith rather than on any warm feeling within me, I realised that the song is quite simply part of who I am and it is in the darkness that it is most important to me.

The song must not stop with us and we in our turn must sing it to others. In doing this we must remember that this song has two special characteristics.

The first is that we, too, will never sing the song as well as Jesus did – our voices lack strength and go flat, we misunderstand the words – but, if we sing this song to the best of our ability, people do not hear only our voices. Behind us and through us they hear a stronger and a surer voice, the voice of Jesus.

The second is that we always sing the song better if we can learn to sing it together – not one voice here, another there, each singing different words to different melodies, but all singing the one song in harmony. Then people will truly know that it is still the most beautiful song the world has ever known.

Posted by Bob Birchall in Archives, Vatican II

Vatican II: Unfinished Business – Panel Discussion

Vatican II: Unfinished Business – Panel Discussion

Bishop Geoffrey Robinson

When numbers of bishops come together, they are at ease with discussion of pastoral issues, but much less comfortable with discussion of profound theological issues. This is true whether we are speaking of a meeting of the Australian bishops in Conference or of the Synod of Bishops in Rome, and I believe it was true also of the Second Vatican Council.

The Council opened up perspectives, raised questions, indicated directions and made many beautiful and inspiring pastoral statements, but it frequently did not give the clear theological foundation on which to plan confidently for the Church of the future. All too often a tension between very different theological positions was part of the Council’s treatment of a topic. This was certainly true of the Council’s treatment of collegiality, conscience and marriage, among others. It is one of the major reasons why we must entitle this forum “Vatican II: Unfinished Business.”

It is important to understand that these tensions were present in the Council itself and in the documents it produced. Opposing groups within the Church can quote different statements to support their own positions. It is not surprising, therefore, that these tensions are still with us.

Despite this, I am an optimist about the final outcome of the Council. In large part my optimism comes from the least likely source imaginable, the crisis concerning sexual abuse of minors that has engulfed the Church.

It is my hope that, somewhere around the year 2100, an historian will be able to look back and say that serious change took place in the Catholic Church in the hundred years between 1960 and 2060. At first it was the Second Vatican Council that caused changes in most aspects of the Church’s life and had a quite profound effect on the way Catholic people lived their lives. Eventually, however, the changes of the Council seemed to come to a stop and go no further. It was then, in the twenty-first century, the historian will say, that the issue of sexual abuse forced further change. Serious change in an organisation as large and ancient as the Catholic Church requires an immense energy and it was the issue of sexual abuse alone that had that level of energy, for it was this issue that finally caused vast numbers of Catholic people around the world to rise up and say, “This is not good enough. There must be change.”

And so, our future historian might report, a further series of profound changes came over the Church in the first half of the twenty-first century. They were mainly in the two areas of sex and power. They did not come without fierce opposition, but the energy for change arising from sexual abuse was so great that eventually they did come.

Human development came to be put beside spiritual development and the two began to walk hand in hand. What was spiritually healthy and what was psychologically healthy began to shed light on each other. Sexuality was distinguished from sex, spirit and matter were reunited and joy in every aspect of God’s creation began to spread. The gifts of women came to be better appreciated. Power came to be seen as service, as Jesus had intended, and collaboration and empowerment became daily more common.

It is extremely unlikely that our historian will be able to report that everything became as perfect as this, but I hope that she will be able to report serious progress.

In bringing about these changes, I am not calling for a revolution or battles in the street in front of cathedrals. The issue of abuse is complex and sensitive, and it does not allow of instant and sweeping solutions. (Will you allow me to repeat that sentence: The issue of abuse is complex and sensitive, and it does not allow of instant and sweeping solutions). The whole Church must work together. But the immense energy for change that sexual abuse has aroused must not be lost. It must grow stronger, and it must be harnessed and used effectively.

Permit me to give a few examples. I would like to see a massive request from the Catholic people of the whole world to the Pope, asking him to put in motion a serious study of any and all factors within the Church that might foster a climate of abuse or contribute to the covering up of abuse. I would like to see an insistence that obligatory celibacy, attitudes to sex and sexuality and all the ways in which power is understood and exercised within the Church at every level be part of this study. I would, however, want a truly serious and scientific study, far deeper than anything I have so far seen in newspapers or heard around a table.

As a second example, I would like to see a massive request/demand that the collegiality of which the Vatican Council spoke, be used to the full in responding to this crisis. If collegiality is not fully used in an issue so important, so down-to-earth and so crucial to the effectiveness of the Church, then the Vatican Council is truly unfinished business. It does not involve any dogmas of faith, so there is no reason not to respect the needs and values of each culture. This surely means the Vatican listening to the needs of each country and not imposing the “foreign” solutions they have imposed, eg. establishing a statute of limitations of ten years for bringing forward an accusation of abuse or insisting that all cases must be heard by a tribunal consisting solely of priests and referred to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome.

As a third example, I would like to see the 32 diocesan bishops and 150 leaders of religious institutes in Australia give up some of their independence for the sake of all of us acting as one on this issue. However, I realise that in the Catholic Church people treasure any independence they do have, and are slow to surrender it. I also know that before the Council bishops rode roughshod over the rights of religious, especially women religious, so some religious can today be resistant to any suggestion that comes from a bishop. As I said, the issues can be complex and sensitive.

Nevertheless, my thesis is simple. The Second Vatican Council was the greatest event in the Church in my lifetime. It has inspired my life over the last forty years. But because its theology was frequently far from clear, it is unfinished business, and two of the areas that absolutely demand further work are sex and power. For these two issues the crisis of sexual abuse alone gives the enormous energy that is needed for further change to occur. We should respond to the crisis of abuse for its own sake and the sake of the victims, but we should also seek to use its energy creatively, sensitively and intelligently in order to take further the unfinished business of the Council.

(Bishop Geoffrey Robinson is auxiliary bishop of Sydney.)

Robert Fitzgerald AM

Tonight, we come not to remember Vatican II, for to do so would be to look back at a historical event. Rather, we come to celebrate the ongoing spirit unleashed by Vatican II which is present with us today and into the future, and to accept the challenges it imposes on each of us.

I am reminded of a quote by Paolo Totaro, the Foundation Chair of the Ethnic Affairs Commission, NSW when he wrote over twenty years ago, “for us multiculturalism had to do with basic freedoms and with the right to be equally treated regardless of the culture one was born in, or had chosen. It was neither a point of arrival, nor of departure. It was but one moment in the tortuous passage towards a more civilised humanity, where a moral code of compassion and inclusion would operate and inform the laws of the state.”

These words ring true for me in relation to Vatican II. Vatican II was neither a point of arrival, nor of departure. It was but one moment in the tortuous passage or journey of the life of our Church. But what a moment! And what a legacy! It was a moment that lives with us today as fully as it did in 1962, yet it remains a moment that is incomplete.

Archbishop John Quinn spoke of the Second Vatican Council called by Pope John XXIII as “in the best sense a revolution, setting the Church on a new trajectory, profoundly touching all aspects of her life.”

Using the metaphors of opening the windows and letting new light in, he said “it enabled the Church to see her own internal life in a new way, its strengths and weaknesses, its fidelities and infidelities… to look out and see beyond itself, to see the world with its joys and hopes, its promise, its contradictions, its torments and its tragedies.”

The original document of the Council entitled “Sacrosanctum Concilium”, spelt out the goals of the Council, “It is the intention of this holy council to improve the standard of daily Christian living among Catholics; to adapt those structures which are subject to change so as to better meet the needs of our time; to encourage whatever can contribute to the union of all who believe in Christ; and to strengthen whatever serves to call all people into the embrace of the Church.”

Archbishop Rembert Weakland said “These were vastly inspiring aims, they involved a pastoral thrust; they implied updating the institutions of the Church, bringing them into the twentieth century; they demanded ecumenism and a quest for unity; they saw a new evangelisation. These were fresh and embracing aims.”

In each of these four areas we were and are called to a new way of looking at, and seeing our Church and ourselves.

A new way of looking at Church

Without doubt, the most fundamental call of the Council was to see the Church genuinely as a pilgrim people, a People of God. So often the term People of God was used to describe the communion, or communio, among all God’s people, that is Church.

This notion of the People of God creates the basis on which the concept of collegiality amongst bishops is founded. It is central to the reality that we all share equally in the responsibility for the Church itself. Indeed, we are all equal in the tasks of maintaining, enriching and enlivening the Church and equally responsible for the leadership of our Church. Our equality is born out of the gift of baptism and reaffirmed in the gift of confirmation. It is not given or bestowed by men but by God through these sacraments.

Pope John Paul II in the Apostolic Exhortation “Eccelsia in Oceania” published in November 2001 said, “…complemented and illustrated in the understanding of the Church as the People of God and the community of disciples. Church as communion recognises the basic equality of all Christ’s faithful – lay, religious and ordained. The communion is shaped and enlivened by the Holy Spirit’s gifts of offices and charisms.”

Today the great unfinished business for Church is to truly embrace these truths that the Church is the People of God, with shared responsibility for and shared leadership of our Church and to create the structures to enable this to be a lived reality not idle rhetoric.

In seeking a new way of looking at the Church, the Council acknowledged that there was room for legitimate diversity in our Church. The Church is indeed a communion of communities, a communion of local Churches. Yes, a universal Church, but a Church that is made up of a wide range of diverse, lively, enriching and yes, sometimes troublesome, communities. This legitimate diversity however continues to be a source of strain and struggle not because of the diversity, but the unwillingness of many to accept its legitimacy. We should, however, be encouraged by Pope John Paul II in his Encyclical Ut Unim Sint published in 1995 when he was speaking of the Church’s quest for Christian unity, “Legitimate diversity is in no way opposed to the Church’s unity, but rather enhances her splendour and contributes greatly to the fulfilment of her mission.”

Yet there are many in Church that struggle and rail against such diversity.

There are those that continue to question the doctrines of collegiality and subsidiarity. I suspect that they question the very notion that we are all equal members of the People of God.

I am reminded of one of the Gospels of St Luke. In this particular Gospel, the story of Zacchaeus, Jesus is invited into the home of Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus was to many unclean and unworthy of offering such hospitality. The Gospel is one of welcome and acceptance. It is one of hospitality offered and received. But it is also a story that reminds us of “the others” who stood by, criticised and condemned this act of hospitality.

Brendan Byrne, in a reflection on that Gospel said, “alongside Jesus and the other principal character, there was a third party: a ‘they’ who observe and comment the third group invariably has difficulty with what is going on. They reject the exchange of hospitality, they mutter and they murmur.”

In our Church there are those that mutter and murmur about the tide of change that flooded forth from Vatican II. Just let us look at one element – that of collegiality.

Joseph Dunn in his text “No Lions in the Hierarchy” says “After Vatican II, for a brief moment, the doctrine of collegiality looked as if it might be taken with real seriousness, and expressed in structures like the synod which would actively encourage participation, openness and genuine communication. What has happened to that inspiring vision?”

He goes on to quote Edmund Hill who put the matter bluntly in his text Ministry and Authority, “the proposers and supporters of collegiality were naïve to hand over its implementation to its most committed opponents, who being anything but naïve have done their best to neutralise it ever since.”

They that “mutter and murmur” have often gone beyond simply commenting.

But, we can seek to complete the work of Vatican II by continuing to assert that we are indeed an equal people, in genuine communion with each other, the lay, the religious and the ordained, sharing in the joys and struggles, the leadership and the fellowship of our Church.

This is not an idle discussion for it sits at the heart of how the Church sees itself and how the Church must structure itself to bring this communion to reality. It is about claiming and shaping our shared leadership of the Church. This is our unfinished challenge. In our local Church how do we embrace these notions of shared leadership and responsibility?

Locating the Church within the world

Pope John XXIII in his Encyclical Gaudem et Spes and the documents of the Vatican II clearly sought to articulate the mission of the Church within the world. It is a social mission. It recognises the human person as the centre of the world and it seeks to bring the Church into close dialogue with all human persons and their experiences.

Put in another way, it is to bring the human experience into constant dialogue with the Christian event, as so elegantly expressed by David Tacey. Our Church’s role is to be a strong and articulate voice in the world. Leaders of our Church need to continue to own, to believe in, to preach and to advocate the social teachings of our Church. Since the time of Rerum Novarum, for over a hundred years, our Church has been such a voice in the world. That challenge remains ongoing business. As Pope John Paul II in his recent Apostolic letter “Novo Millennio Ineunte” (At the beginning of the new millennium) compels us to get close to those who suffer in the real world. He says, “Now is the time for a new creativity and charity, not only by ensuring that help is effective but also by getting close to those who suffer so that the hand that helps is seen not as a humiliating hand out but as a sharing between brothers and sisters.”

Fr Peter Maher in a recent article in The Mix says that we must respond “with raw honesty and integrity” and unencumbered in our quest to be part of or to be in dialogue with the world.

First, however, we must be a Church that acknowledges its wrong doings, by seeking the truth, accepting its guilt, expressing its sorrow and rejoicing in the reconciliation. It must never defend the indefensible or excuse the inexcusable.

Our Church cannot afford to be removed from the world nor arrogant in its encounters. Humbly engaged it must be, in order to bring the Kingdom alive today, in our world.

How do we in Australia bring the human experience into dialogue with the Christian event? What are the hallmarks of our encounters with the world?

Just as Vatican II is unfinished business, so too in our land are the issues of poverty, reconciliation, the fair treatment of asylum seekers, and the inclusion of the most vulnerable. These issues are our issues.

Christian unity – a great quest

One of the most extraordinary aspects of the Second Vatican Council was its call for the Church to re-engage with other religions in the quest for Christian unity. It is a call today re-expressed in the encyclical of Pope John Paul II, Ut Unum Sint. Archbishop Quinn talks about this document and its challenges as another “revolution”.

His Holiness calls for the whole Church to be engaged in a re-examination of the Church’s quest for Christian unity, and in an extraordinary way, the very role of the primacy. Pope John Paul II says, “I am convinced that I have a particular responsibility… above all in acknowledging the ecumenical aspirations of the majority of the Christian communities and heeding the request made to me to find a way of exercising the primacy which, while in no way renouncing what is essential to its mission, is nonetheless open to a new situation.”

This is indeed a great challenge. How have we responded? I fear with silence and indifference.

In Novo Millennio Ineunte he restates the need for a relationship of openness and dialogue with the followers of other religions.

If the business of Vatican II is to be truly finished then we must re-embrace the quest for Christian unity with renewed enthusiasm. It is only then that we will really see a true revolution in the Church, the way that it sees itself and its structures and institutions. Just imagine the moment when the first Church is embraced by or embraces the Catholic Church. Imagine that moment and all that it will mean!

Pope John Paul II goes on to say, “in accordance with the hope expressed by Pope Paul VI our declared purpose is to re-establish together full unity in legitimate diversity.” A diversity that will strengthen the life and mission of the Church itself. And will forever change it!

How strong is our commitment to Christian unity in our local Church and are we ready for what it will mean?

Religious freedom – a personal search

For many, one of the most significant consequences of the Council was the shift from the forcing of religious beliefs to one that acknowledges the need for an informed yet free individual conscience. It was a dramatic shift in increasing the personal responsibility of each of us. It was a call for a deeper, more challenging spirituality. It is one that has placed greater onus on each member of the Church, to develop an intimate relationship with our God. In recent papers Fr Michael Whelan has talked about the difference between knowing God (gnonai) and having knowledge of Him (gnoseos). Without doubt Vatican II called us to know our God and not simply have a remote understanding or knowledge of Him. Yet, in no way did this shift diminish the need for community, nor did it undermine the teachings of the Church, but rather encouraged the absorption by each individual of these teachings and embrace true community in order to forge a new relationship with each other and with our God.

The unfinished business for the Church is to embrace this message in a very special way. It is also at the heart of our new evangelisation – to go out to those that have walked away from the Church, to acknowledge where they are, to walk with them and to journey with them. But where to should we journey? For me, it is to the Christian event – the birth, the life, the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Fr Cyril Hally, a Columban Priest, some years ago wrote, “there is one mission – the building of a kingdom which is not the same as the consolidation and expansion of the Church. We do not pray ‘thy Church come’ but ‘thy kingdom come’. The Church must reflect gospel teachings of Jesus Christ in order that it can bring the Kingdom.”

As Church, we must never lose sight of our mission, that is to bring the Kingdom alive in the hearts and lives of all people, to allow people to forge a deep yet demanding encounter with God. Church facilitates, not hinders this process, or at least it should!

Signs of the times – a hopeful agenda

Pope John XXIII first used the expression “signs of the times” in his encyclical Pacem in Terris. Throughout the Council this term was used over and over again. The call was not only to read the signs of the times, in a complex and changing world, but also to find signs of the spirit alive in our world. We must indeed be a people of great optimism and great hope. There are signs of the spirit at work here tonight, throughout the Church and in the world at large.

It was once said, “there are also signs of the living spirit amongst us. We know that God loves us now, no less than God loved previous generations of believers.”

Do we believe that he would abandon us today? Do we believe that he loves us less than he loved those that came before the Council? Of course not!

We must believe in that hope. We must believe that the signs of the spirit are at work today, in our life, and in our world. He calls on us to go out into the deep, reminding us of the words of Jesus when speaking from Simon’s boat; he invited the Apostles “to put out into the deep”. The work of Vatican II can only be accomplished if we are prepared to put out into the deep. To take the risks, but to do so in the hope that comes from the Gospel message.

Pope John Paul II in Novo Millennio Ineunte says, “let us go forward in hope; a new millennium is opening; before the Church lies a vast ocean upon which we shall venture, relying on the help of Christ.” He goes on, “that the Son of God… is at work even today, we need discerning eyes to see this and, above all a generous heart to become instruments of his work.”

Let us not forfeit the hope of Vatican II but be inspired by it, guided by it and liberated by it.

Let us not listen to those who mutter and murmur, nor allow them to distract us from the great unfinished challenges that are our shared responsibility.

Let us go out into the deep with confidence and courage in the knowledge that God loves us no less than those who came before us.

Let us be the signs of the spirit at work in today’s world, not simply spectators in search of other signs.

Let us live the Moment, let us finish the business!


Dunn, Joseph, No Lions in the Hierarchy, Columbia Press, Dublin, 1999

Quinn, John R, The Reform of the Papacy, Herder and Herder, New York, 1999

Maher, Peter, The Mix 2002, Catalyst for Renewal

Weakland, Archbishop Rembert, Faith and the Human Enterprise, Orbis Books, USA, 1992

Whelan, Michael, Recovering the Mystical Heart of the Christian Faith, ACLRI Hobart, 2002

(Robert Fitzgerald AM is currently Community Services Commissioner in New South Wales; he is a member of the National Competition Council. He holds degrees in law and commerce from the University of NSW and an honorary doctorate from Australian Catholic University.)

Michael Whelan SM


We can usefully think of the “unfinished business” of the Second Vatican Council in terms of three interrelated challenges:

Firstly, there is the challenge to re-think;

Secondly, there is the challenge to re-form;

Thirdly, there is the challenge to re-new.

None of these challenges can be pursued independently of the other two; all are inextricably bound together.

1. The First Challenge: Re-thinking

I recently went on the Internet and typed “”; I asked “Google” to search for the words “cor ad cor loquitur” – “heart speaks to heart”, the motto of Venerable John Henry Newman. In .1 of a second, it gave me 605 web sites where I could find that Latin phrase used. This reminds me of how much things have changed over the past forty years since the Council began.

The human reality I inhabit today is very different from the one I inhabited – along with the Catholics and others of my generation – back in 1962. In particular, I can, do and must think differently about things. I have different perceptions and expectations about what is possible and what is necessary; I ask different questions of myself and my world. I think differently about myself as a human being, as a male, as a Christian, as a Catholic, as a priest.

I have no doubt that the Spirit of God is to be found in the midst of this process. We must take the initiative in this re-thinking, therefore, and forge a vigorous conversation in which we deliberately facilitate the emergence of truth, no matter what it costs us. And it will cost us. But it will also liberate us. Paradoxically, this conversation, so oriented towards an unfolding present and a future still out of sight, must also be deeply conscious of the past – it demands a re-discovery of the riches of the authentic Gospel tradition and an attentiveness to the experience of the Church and the lessons learned down through the ages.

In the work of re-thinking we might even discover that it is possible to think with your stomach as well as your head, that rationalism has brought mixed blessings, that imagination has been diminished and that there are ways of thinking, found in the great mystics, that will liberate us beyond belief.

Our re-thinking may at times mean new language, new concepts, new names, or thinking in new ways about old language, old concepts and old names. Part of our re-thinking demands, for example, that we clarify what we mean by words like “tradition” and “magisterium” and “infallibility”; that we return to the Gospels with a keen desire to hear them afresh; that we think anew about the Incarnation and what is actually on offer through the mystery of God enfleshed in our world.

2. The second challenge: Re-forming

When I went to the seminary at the beginning of 1965 – a few months before the Council ended – I participated in a little ritual of reception. Together with the other eleven postulants-to-be, carrying a folded soutane, a surplice with lace trim and a biretta, all neatly arranged and held out in front of me, I processed into the chapel, where the seminary faculty had gathered with the student body – about 50 all together. We and our new garb were blessed; we left the chapel and returned, clad in that new garb – including the biretta. I could spend some time speaking of the barely subdued hilarity that accompanied that little ceremony. However, my point is simply this: On that day in February 1965, I was part of a form of Christian living – manifest in the particular clothing, ritual, custom, church architecture and so on – that was already beginning to change. I suspect no one knew at that time just how much change was already underway. Again, as with the challenge to take the initiative of re-thinking, we must also take the initiative and engage in an intelligent process of re-forming. If we do not take the initiative, we will not only miss the opportunity of being part of something liberating and life-giving, something we can happily bequeath to the coming generations, but we will run a grave risk of simply becoming victims of the whole process of change and perhaps making others victim of it also.

So many of the forms of the Catholic Church we had inherited as we came into the middle of the twentieth century, had more to say about the demands of past eras than they had to say about the demands of the twentieth century, let alone the demands of the Gospel as such. And, although much has been re-formed over the past forty years – not always happily or well and not always unhappily or badly – much still has to be re-formed.

And in this re-forming process we might get some surprises. We might discover some ancient forms – such as meditation and lectio divina – that have a wonderful richness, perfectly suited to our time. We might also appreciate as never before that – with institutions as with human beings – dying is part of living and the changing of forms is part of God’s plan.

It is critical that this process of re-forming be allied to the process of re-thinking. And there is one particular thing that worries me in this regard. It is the phenomenon of reductionism. Reductionism manifests itself in varying ways, but it is always an attempt to reduce reality to manageable proportions, and thus bypass, ignore or actually dismiss the subtleties, complexities, ambiguities and paradoxes that make reality so rich, so life-giving, so incomprehensible and so enchanting. The following three examples of reductionism are common enough, sometimes more or less implied, sometimes more or less explicitly stated:

Firstly, there is a reductionism that sees the teaching authority of the Church largely or simply in terms of the prerogatives of the Pope and the Roman Curia – particularly the Roman Curia. This form of reductionism, for example, tends to have little regard for the authority of the bishops gathered in synod, or the bishop in his own diocese; it also tends to have little regard for such key concepts as “communion”, “collegiality” and “subsidiarity”;

Secondly, from time to time I hear it proposed that “anyone’s opinion is as good as anyone else’s opinion”. This form of reductionism, for example, tends to have little regard for the authentic tradition or scholarship, and implies a certain arbitrariness, as if there were no deposit of faith or no objective truth;

Thirdly, there is a reductionism that sees the challenge for the Church primarily in terms of structural change and political forces. This form of reductionism, for example, tends to have little regard for the power of the Spirit in it all, sometimes working in the strangest and most unlikely people, events or things; this kind of reductionism also tends to run ahead of grace.

We are all vulnerable to the temptations of reductionism. It promises security; it allays our anxieties by creating the illusion of control. But we must never forget that reductionism is more an expression of anxiety than faith. What is demanded of us is a deliberate movement towards surrender and abandonment. We would do well to turn to those mystics I mentioned earlier to learn more about this.

3. The third challenge: Re-newing

The most crucial part of the “unfinished business” is what I am calling the challenge of re-newing. You and I, individually and communally, must become new people. The real work is not going to happen out there unless there is real work happening in here, in the hearts and minds of each of us. This is the intensely communal and personal work of conversion of heart and mind (cf Romans 12:2), the daily submitting to the power of the Spirit of God that we might become a new creation (cf John 1:13 and 3:3 etc; 2Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15), conformed to Christ (cf Romans 8:29; Philippians 3:21; 1Peter 1:14-16). It is also the work of facing what must be faced in ourselves, of being willing to address with compassionate honesty the most fundamental of all questions: “What’s going on?” More particularly: “What’s going on with/in me?”

No amount of re-thinking and re-forming will do us any good if there is no conversion of life underpinning it, manifested in it and flowing out of it. Or, to put it another way, all our re-thinking and re-forming must be also and at the same time re-newing. And so, the re-thinking then becomes an effective opening to the Spirit of God, not just a change of ideas or personal agenda or still less simply the abandoning of old thought patterns; and the re-forming then becomes a process in which we allow the Spirit of God to lead us where we must go, not just a problem-solving program or a series of political manoeuvres.

4. Concluding Remarks

Not everyone is going to be a leader in re-thinking or re-forming, though we must all be open to both and seek to respond to the challenges there to the best of our ability. However, everyone is a leader in the work of re-newing. No other human being has quite the journey of conversion that you have, and therefore no other human being has quite the same gift to bring to the life of the Church. You alone can lead us along that way.

I referred at the beginning of this presentation to Cardinal Newman’s motto, one which we would do well to meditate on at this time – “cor ad cor loquitur”. I shall conclude with a few words from one of Cardinal Newman’s prayers, words that I would encourage you to take to heart as they describe beautifully and simply our Christian vocation, especially in this time of “unfinished business”: “I have a part in a great work; I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons.”

(Father Michael Whelan PhD is a Marist priest: he is the Director of the Aquinas Academy and the editor of the MIX, the journal of Catalyst for Renewal.)

Posted by Bob Birchall in Archives, Vatican II

2 Frank Brennan, SJ, AO The Church in the modern world – to what extent have we engaged?

The Church in the modern world. To what extent have we as church engaged with ourselves as the modern world, and to what extent have we transformed the church as people of the modern world?


A. The help which the Church strives to give to Human Activity through Christians (Gaudium et Spes #43)

This split between the faith, which many profess, and their daily lives, deserve to be counted among the more serious errors of our age.

The Christian who neglects his temporal duties, neglects his duties toward his neighbour and even God, and jeopardises his eternal salvation.

Laymen should also know that it is generally the function of their well-formed Christian conscience to see that the divine law is inscribed in the life of the earthly city; from priests they may look for spiritual light and nourishment.

Let the layman not imagine that his pastors are always such experts, that to every problem which arises, however complicated, they can readily give him a concrete solution, or even that such is their mission. Rather, enlightened by Christian wisdom and giving close attention to the teaching authority of the Church, let the layman take on his own distinctive role.

Now the Church by her presence alone and by all the gifts which she contains, is an unspent fountain of those virtues which the modern world needs the most.

In the present age, too, it does not escape the Church how great a distance lies between the message she offers and the human failings of those to whom the Gospel is entrusted. Whatever be the judgement of history on these defects, we ought to be conscious of them, and struggle against them energetically, lest they inflict harm on spread of the Gospel.

B. The help which the Church receives from the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes #44)

The Church herself knows how richly she has profited by the history and development of humanity.

Her purpose has been to adapt the Gospel to the grasp of all as well as to the needs of the learned, insofar as such was appropriate. Indeed this accommodated preaching of the revealed word ought to remain the law of all evangelization.

The Church requires the special help of those who live in the world, are versed in different institutions and specialties, and grasp their innermost significance in the eyes of both believers and unbelievers.

Since the Church has a visible and social structure as a sign of her unity in Christ, she can and ought to be enriched by the development of human social life.

Whoever promotes the human community at the family level, culturally, in its economic, social and political dimensions, both nationally and internationally, such a one, according to God’s design, is contributing greatly to the Church.

The Church admits that she has greatly profited and still profits from the antagonism of those who oppose or who persecute her.

C. Paul Keating in the Manning Clark Lecture, 3 March 2002:

“We are at risk of becoming, as Manning once said, subjects in the kingdom of nothingness. Subjects of a post-Christian, post-Enlightenment world where there is no inspiration, no higher endeavour, little compassion and no belief beyond narrow self-interest. Like members of a gated community we pretend, in our comfortable urban solace, that all is well including all around us.

Manning used to say that Australian public life broke into two groups: the enlargers, and the punishers and straighteners. As the incarcerated asylum-seekers at Woomera can attest, this government is well and truly into the punishing and straitening game.

To keep the best notions of Australia bubbling within itself, to keep us from that gated refuge of nothingness, the more we remain members of the great project of humanity the better off we will be, and the happier we will be. The more we resist arbitrary and parochial distinctions between peoples, the more our security in this great part of the world will be guaranteed and the more our participation in it will be rewarded.

Ours is an age of distraction. The background to our lives is the white noise of inconsequential television programs, pompous pundits, shrill talkback callers, ten-second news grabs, and the cult of celebrity. In this environment, the need for contemplation and some introspection becomes compelling; a time to stop and think; to make our way, guided by a moral compass, a bearing that divines our best instincts.”

D. Patterns of Economic and Cultural Solidarity. Fr Timothy Radcliffe, O.P (Oceania Synod).

“Oceania largely consists of water, which is for Christians a symbol of life and death. Baptism and destruction. The seas have brought slavery, militarisation and the global market. Today the waters in which these islands must thrive or die is essentially that of ideas. The biggest export of the United States is “culture”. How can the islanders become citizens of this new sea, while retaining their identity and culture? What is required first of all is a new wisdom which is large enough to have a space for their way of seeing things, through song and gift, and yet give space for the skills of modernity.

The new wisdom must ultimately be created by the people themselves, in the light of the Gospel. We must support their ability to move beyond passivity to create what Augustine calls new song for a new humanity. This is the wisdom that we need for a new millennium. But this will remain merely a theory if it is not embodied in new economic relationships. This may seem too large a challenge, but if Christians do not dare to face it then who will? The first step for the Synod is the development of patterns of economic and cultural solidarity in the region, which give a voice to the island peoples. Von Balthasar talked of the need for “islands of humanity”. Let us hope that Oceania may offer such to humanity.”

Safeguarding Role and Dignity of Women. Mrs Margaret Taylor, Papua New Guinea (Oceania Synod)

“The church in Papua New Guinea in particular is cautious in its deliberations on social and economic issues. It is cautious on its position on transparency and accountability of elected leadership. It is cautious in its approach and stance on the issues pertaining to women, in particular, violence against women. The Church is anxious about the emergence of fundamentalist Churches that entice the young and energetic in Catholic communities. It is a Church that must be anxious about its indigenous clergy and its future. The millennium gives the Church the chance to change its norms from a missionary Church to an autochthonous church, independent in spirit and its pastoral work, a Church that is Melanesian.

There are three key issues:

First is the voice of the Church. The Conference of Bishops must become pro-active. The voice of the Church must be heard on issues of corruption, social and economic injustice.

Secondly, women and the Church. The Church must stand with women, speak out against violence, support women’s health and education, and help women maintain our dignity both in secular and spiritual life. Assist women to become partners in building the Church and in development. The Church must be cautious in its adoption of culture. Culture can disenfranchise women. The Church stands for liberation of those afraid and disenfranchised.

Thirdly, our indigenous clergy need greater support and love. The indigenisation of the Church in the 21st century means our clergy taking a greater responsibility in pastoral and intellectual work and in the management of the Church. We in Papua New Guinea need to ask some tough questions.

Is pastoral work the only avenue for service? Is there a more purposeful role for women religious, for women laity, for laity as a whole?

Is there room for the intellectual side of the Melanesian Church?

What mechanisms are there to be a responsive Church?

All that said, it has, as in the past and more recently, always been the case that when all seems lost, through natural disasters, delivery of services to our sick and education for our children, the Church has provided both spiritual and physical assistance. The Church has been constant.”

Pope John Paul II Address to Representatives of World Religions gathered in Assisi, 24 January 2002:

“To pray is not to escape from history and the problems which it presents. On the contrary, it is to choose to face reality not on our own, but with the strength that comes from on high, the strength of truth and love which have their ultimate source in God. Faced with the treachery of evil, religious people can count on God, who absolutely wills what is good. They can pray to him to have the courage to face even the greatest difficulties with a sense of personal responsibility, never yielding to fatalism or impulsive reactions.”


We need to start with a correct assessment of ourselves. As a group, we are middle class, middle aged, from the mainstream culture in a very first world society. The presenters are still very much male, and the overwhelming percentage of participants are women.

In Gaudium et Spes we move from a view of self, church and the world which separates all three (especially if one is a layperson) to a model of three concentric circles in which one finds oneself, in the church, which is then in the world.

We have moved from a dualistic defensive apologetic of the church versus the world to a more intrinsic theology in which we see the world as being already implicitly graced. This permits new possibilities for inter-religious dialogue and novel spiritualities.

The corollary of finding good news in the world has been expecting to find bad news in the Church. The test is not the authority of the statement but the authenticity of the action. The modern question is not “What is the authority of the speaker?” but “What is the commitment of the listener?”

This conference is entitled “Unfinished Business” – a term first coined in this country by Aborigines. We have even more to learn from them as we endure this difficult time of marginalisation to the mainstream culture and from the State.


At the time of Vatican II, there was a more positive view of the world. Now in Australia and New Zealand there is a more negative view – secular and humanist. Gaudium et Spes speaks about the church as a healing sacrament. How do we now work with the world as healing people? Pre-Vatican II we did not much think about our social responsibility. Now we have a responsibility to be a pilgrim church sharing our gifts. We need to stop and reflect where we might go from here.

Our church leaders get very upset about stem cell research but do not seem to be at all upset about the incarceration of children.

Priests are being too defensive about the present issues of sexual abuse. Are we as a church ready to receive help from the modern world? Are we still arrogant, thinking that we have all the answers? We need to look more to the signs of the times, the signs of God in the world.

All governments are now trying to be more inclusive of women. Women should be included more in all the pastoral aspects of the Church.

Many of us were brought up to be docile and obedient, expecting a strict separation of church and state, and expecting the government to be all caring. Now we are more questioning, hoping for more involvement by church in the activities of state, knowing that government has no intention of providing all the needs of civil society.

As church, are we to be an elite or an all-inclusive group? Our weekly Eucharist should give us the greatest sense of church but we do not have the sense of being the People of God with mission to the world.


Church as Hierarchy

In the Vatican II documents, the Church comes across as hierarchical. Point B4 on the handout (Church enriched by the development of human social life) ought to get us back to a simpler Church, to what Jesus did. Point F on prayer is the answer to this simpler Church. Church has become more complicated since Vatican II, not simpler. As Church, we have let ourselves be seduced by capitalism and materialism.

All organisations need structure. The ordained need to lead, and lead well, but we need to lead too, and participate.

Re. women and the Church – there has been an Australian inquiry on this issue. We’ve come a long way. Modern world has alerted Church to this issue.

Australians have the gift of being serious without being formal. The wider Church does not appreciate this. But this Australian style allows things to happen that couldn’t in a rigid hierarchy.

Church and Social Justice

People are transforming the world. There is hope. People are doing good things.

Frustration at the lack of response of parishioners on social justice issues. Not enough just to pray, we’ve got to do something. Early on, Catholics needed social justice to survive. Now they’ve become middle class and complacent.

The way the children overboard issue is brushed aside in society indicates a moral decline. We as church share responsibility for that. In terms of social justice, in our parishes there is a lack of commitment, lack of awareness, people think they are just spectators.

Biggest problem in getting social justice issues before the parish is an unwilling parish priest.

Point A2 – We need to be doers in the temporal realm.

In the pre-election period, people seemed to feel powerless, not willing or able to engage. Leaves us with a social and moral vacuum in society.

Feel powerless in terms of communication and media – who can we trust on these issues?

Voice of the Church in public matters, matters of injustice, needs to be heard. But aware that sometimes Church authority can be seen as a negative voice, and the media complicates issues by choosing what to report.

How to get information to people? One way, the Internet. Caritas or a parish example.

Who is Church? What is Church?

When we gather as church, we are middle class women, privileged women, not representative, nor ethnically diverse, nor dealing with vulnerable women in our community.

Point B5 on the human community and human family – what do we do to promote this community? Do we judge our fellow humans in discriminatory ways? If we can’t see Church in young people, or people with kids, take the time to find out what they think and where they are at, if we judge them instead, we are not contributing to the Church. Church is in the people we meet – we are the Church. Remember that Jesus didn’t only preach at the temple.

Point B3 on the handout suggests that Catholics need to hunt out and listen to other experiences. It is wrong to divide the world into the secular and the sacred. We need to find reasonableness and knowledge from other traditions too.

Right to be concerned about young people’s lack of participation in church. But only 14% of Catholics attend Mass. What are we doing about the other 86%? People engage when a part of Catholic school community, then move off into blue yonder.

Remember to let our faith shine in our hearts. Prayer is not a means to escape history, but gives us strength. Love is the greatest thing we’ve got.

(Father Frank Brennan SJ, AO is a priest and lawyer. He is Adjunct Fellow at the Australian National University in the Research School of Social Sciences, Honorary Visiting Fellow in Law at the University of New South Wales, and the Associate Director of Uniya, the Jesuit Social Justice Centre in Sydney)

Posted by Bob Birchall in Archives, Vatican II

19 Fr Trevor Trotter – The overseas mission of the Australian Church

Overseas mission of the Australian Church: In the changed world and Church since Vatican II what relationships can we as Australians and Church have with our neighbours in Asia/Pacific region?

Looking back and Looking forward

This conference gives us the opportunity to look back over the last forty years since the start of Vatican II. We can see how we were, what has happened to us in the meantime and where we are now. I intend in this paper to look at what has happened to people like me – Australian missionaries.

Thinking back to 1962 I have an image of the young missionary priest, newly ordained and about to set off to Asia. He is dressed in sharp clericals. In his luggage he has copies of the Latin texts he learned his theology from including his Code of Canon Law. He sees himself going off to Asia to baptise people and to offer the sacraments to them as an assured path to save their souls. In this he is like any other young missionary priest from around the globe. He has other baggage that he is probably not aware of, the White Australia policy. In Asia he will discover just how this demeans his country in Asian eyes. Of course, he does not know about colour television, faxes, computers or text messaging. He is a long way away from where we are now.

How did we get from that sort of Church and country to where we are now? Obviously there is a long story to tell here but I would like address two areas. The first concerns some of the major transitions in the theological thinking of the church and the second concerns some of the changes in missiological thinking arising from cultural shifts in the last forty years.

I will use a somewhat autobiographical approach to order some of this material. I invite you to look back yourselves on the changes in your own understanding of what it means to be a member of the Church in Australia.

One of the major transitions or conversions for me is summed up in that oft-repeated quotation from the Synod of Bishops of 1971. “Action on behalf of justice and participation in the transformation of the world fully appear to us as a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the Gospel”. I was a bit slow. It took me another couple of years to understand what the Bishops were saying. You may be able to recall your own journey to this understanding of the Gospel of Jesus.


To be able to make that statement one has to move a long way from our young missionary in 1962. I want to mention four key insights, as key events on the journey. Firstly a major insight has to be that salvation is not just about saving souls. We realise that we are talking about saving the whole person. So salvation is not just about heaven, the after-life, but it is also about this life. At this distance it seems such a strange idea that Jesus’ death was about saving souls only. When we talk about the resurrection we are talking about the resurrection of the body! Naturally that means we are talking about the resurrection of the whole material universe, which St. Paul was already addressing on Romans chapter 8. God created the whole universe out of love. It seems strange that that would be the end of God’s care for the world. Biblical texts about “a new heaven and a new earth” start to take on some relevance when our minds are able to make the shift.

Personally, I think this basic intellectual conversion is a major challenge to our regular churchgoers in Australia. A few years ago the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference made a statement, in the form of a video, on Evangelisation with the help of Catholic Mission. The video, “FACES”, had stories of three people. It is a good video. Its purpose, it seems to me, is to help people make the transition from seeing God and religion only in the church building to seeing God at work in and through the events of their lives. In a recent survey of why Australian Christians do not go to Sunday worship one of the main reasons was that they did not see it as connected to the rest of their lives. An understanding of mission that separates salvation from the reality of people’s everyday life does not make any sense and people are right to reject it.


Secondly another new development for which we need to thank the liberation theologians is that we are not just talking about individuals we are talking about structures. Whereas our 1962 missionary was prepared to deal with the souls of individuals in the confessional or maybe in some sort of pastoral counselling he was not prepared to diagnose the structural causes of the poverty he saw all around him. The struggle for justice is a constitutive dimension of preaching the gospel according to the bishops. That there is plenty of injustice in the world is so evident. As our Australian missionary came into contact with the poor of Latin America, the Pacific, Asia or Africa he could not but be moved. He had probably been blind to the poor of Australia but when he came back home he certainly looked at “the lucky country” through different eyes. As he worked with so many others who were committed to helping the poor he too moved from the different understandings of the importance of giving aid, to the need for development, to being in solidarity with those demanding liberation. He moved from giving the fish, to helping the people to fish for themselves to asking why can’t they sell the fish, why are fish stocks being depleted by foreign boats and why are they dying of poisoning? As our missionary looked at his friends in his parish who depended on fishing for a livelihood he came to realise that the answers were and are structural. The politically and economically powerful rule the world. It is the structures that they control which are responsible for the suffering of these fishing families.

Grace and Sin

The third insight was that when we talk about grace and sin we are not just talking about God’s gift in terms of what happens to individuals we are also talking about God’s desire for the transformation of society. Our missionary starts to change his language from sins, as acts of individuals, to structural sin as a power at work oppressing millions of people. Now the prayers of the Eucharist are starting to have all sorts of resonances. “Deliver us from evil” has many meanings for him. When he gathers with friends for Eucharist so often the text being used is Luke 4. In Luke there is no doubt of God’s preferential option for the poor. God loves the rich as well but Luke says the only way that the rich can be saved is by responding to God’s loving call to be converted and to share God’s concern and love for the poor. By this time the brain of our young missionary is getting overloaded. This sort of conversion experience takes time to absorb but he is starting to get help in all sorts of areas.

Church and Kingdom

If our missionary has been keeping up his reading of studies in the Bible he is excited about what liberation theologians are saying about Exodus. God’s gift to the Jews is political liberation from Egypt. Grace has a very concrete shape. Then in the New Testament there is an understanding developing that the historical Jesus preached the Kingdom. So the fourth insight of our missionary is that church is not the main focus of the mission of Jesus and therefore his mission but the Kingdom of God is. The relationship between Church and Kingdom continues to be clarified with the help of quite a few Papal documents. He now understands that the Church is not an end in itself but is at the service of the Kingdom. It is God’s Kingdom and God is bringing it about. In more recent years he will be talking about the missio Dei as the central organising image of his understanding of Church and his own role.

Cultural shifts and their impact

A lot of the change in our understanding of ourselves as missionaries has occurred because of changes in cultural and political realities. Again I would like to make five points under this heading. Briefly they are the feminist movement, the coming to independence of former colonies, inculturation, interfaith dialogue and ecology.

The feminist movement has to be one of the biggest changes in our culture over the last forty years. The church response has been very slow and there is still a long way to go. The Woman and Man: One in Christ Jesus project has been a significant marker in our Australian church’s engagement with this reality. Today it is a vital question for our missionary identity which it certainly was not for our missionary of 1962. However he may have had an inkling of Pope John XXIII’s encyclical Pacem in Terris of the following year which spoke of the emergence of women as one of the major signs of God’s working in our world. Coming out of an Australian seminary he probably did not know what the Pope was talking about.

Another of those signs of the times that the Pope referred to was the struggle for nationhood. Country after country fought for independence from their colonisers and then struggled to become stable communities where the freedom of all was respected. On the ecclesiastical front, new bishops were usually local bishops. Gradually it was not the foreign missionary groups who were making the decisions in the third world but it was the local bishop. The local church became the principal agent of mission on the ground. Foreign missionaries started to talk of themselves as “guests”. Not all were happy to let the local church take control. It was difficult to let go. This movement into the post-colonial period together with an abhorrence of encouraging dependence changed forever the relationship between nations and between local churches.

A major ecclesiological demand that is related to this whole issue is that of “inculturation”. Missionaries who have worked in other cultures have been privileged by an experience of a different way of living the Gospel. They have come to appreciate a different face of Christ, of God. As they experienced the liturgies, the prayers and commitments of people in the local churches where they were working they came to understand more of the variety of God’s gifts and invitations. However it is also obvious that all cultures need to be continually transformed by the gospel. Inculturation of the gospel is a never-ending process. How well do we inculturate the Gospel of Jesus in the Australian culture? In seeking authenticity in our own lives are we also continuing to call our church to authenticity in living as a true Australian?

Not only did our Australian missionary learn about the struggle for justice and the value of other cultures he or she also learnt about the value of other religions. Whether it was among the Hindus in India, the Buddhists in Japan or the Muslims in Pakistan over and over again our missionary discovers holy people. In 1962 he probably thought of them as ‘pagan’. He probably saw them theologically as being in the dark. The light of the Gospel was what he had and he had to bring it to them. However, with Vatican II saying. “The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions” (Nostra Aetate par 2.) and his own experience of people he started to realise his theology was way off the mark. When it was stated that people can be saved through their own religion some of his confreres wondered what they were doing trying to introduce people to Jesus anyway. Today he is quite delighted by his inter-faith dialogue efforts. He gets to meet some very interesting people.

This year the Social Justice statement of the Australian Bishops is a video on Ecology. It makes great use of a phrase of the Pope, “ecological conversion”. Our 1962 missionary could not have possibly foreseen this event. I doubt that many Catholics in Australia today would understand this language. Yet it is a marvellous sign of our developing understanding of where God is calling us today and where God is being manifested. People’s concern for the environment and reverence for its beauty are truly manifestations of God’s Spirit.

Looking Forward

This is my brief summary of an amazing period of change and progress in the thinking of the mission of the Church over the last forty years. I hope you can also look back and marvel at the development that has occurred in your own life. With some sense of satisfaction we can now look forward with hope and expectation for what the future will bring.

It seems to me that the question now facing us is what will this Christian community in Australia do vis-à-vis the rest of the world. Or as stated in the flyer “what relationships can we, as Australians and Church, have with our neighbours in the Asia/Pacific region?” Given all the development of thought and changes in our self-image as church and as Australians what are we doing to face our future? I think we have the questions but the answers are slow in coming, but let me speak to three points.

End of an era

It is clear that the modern missionary era is now over. That great movement of Christian missionaries out of Europe, the United States and Australia and New Zealand, which basically followed the colonial powers thrust into the rest of the world is now finished. All of us know that there are not the numbers of priest, brothers and sisters leaving Australia for the rest of their lives on mission work as there used to be. There are not the number of priests and religious as there used to be within Australia. People generally are not finding the Church the place to be. What we don’t know is why? Why are our churches empty? It amazes me that such a simple question cannot be answered by everyone in the church, let alone by its leaders.

Church as sacrament

While we don’t have much understanding of the shifts in our Western culture we do have a theology of church that has very interesting implications. Vatican II said that the church is the sacrament of the unity of human kind (ref. L.G. 1). The Church in Australia, as a sacrament, should be making visible the works of God in our land. We know that the missio Dei is operative in the hearts and minds of all Australians. God’s Spirit is everywhere. That God’s mission is to bring about the Kingdom is obvious. Our task as church, as sacrament of God’s mission, is to point to where God is, to denounce what is opposed to the Kingdom and to celebrate its presence. We need to do this in every aspect of the nation’s life.

If we are looking at the overseas dimension of the Australian church’s life we need to look at the overseas dimension of the nation’s life. Where is God in our international relations, our military connections, and the relationships with our trading partners? The Church should be able to answer these questions. What about our cultural exchanges, our educational sector where so many students are from overseas? The Pope speaks of the new sites of mission. He uses the word areopagi. He is calling us to look to the new arenas of God’s mission, which are not the usual places where up to now we have normally found the church.

The next question is who will speak of God in these places? Who will promote God’s Kingdom in these areas of national life? Who will be the missionaries, in other words? Those Christians who work in these areas are the ones who will promote the Kingdom there. The members of our Universities, the staff of the Departments of the Federal Government etc. These are the new missionaries. Maybe the theologically literate should be helping them to discern and to name the Spirit of God in their midst.

Partnerships with local churches

In practice, I believe one way forward is for us to build partnerships with other local churches in the Asia/Pacific. What do we need partnerships for? We need partnerships to work for the transformation of the world, to reconcile the human family, to prepare the way for the Kingdom of God. No one nation can unilaterally achieve these goals of human desire. It is only by human beings working together that this can come about.

Global connections

Another way to look at the need for partnerships between local churches is to look at the job to be done. Many of the problems of our world cross national borders. Global warming, refugees, the trafficking in women, etc are all global problems. Globalisation calls for “global solidarity” as the Pope calls it. Local churches need to be in solidarity. We in Australia must connect with our brothers and sisters in the churches of Asia and the Pacific to address the issues that affect us all.

Who will preach to us?

One of the most striking comments I heard recently is that “we are an arrogant church in an arrogant nation”. This is a view held by some of our neighbours. It is a challenge to us today. As I looked back over the last forty years of change in missionary thinking I was startled to realise that so much of this change came from the oppressed. Where did we learn most about the struggle for justice and the Gospel? Gustavo Gutierrez and liberation theology are the quick answer. Where did we learn most about inter-faith dialogue? Surely we must thank the Indians for much of that. If the colonised peoples had not fought for justice would we be talking about the mutuality of local churches? If women had not shared stories of their oppression would we have a Commission for Catholic Women in the Australian church? I don’t think so.

It seems a fundamental law that we are alerted to our sinfulness by those we victimise. The call of Jesus is “Repent, and believe in the Gospel”. For the Australian church to grow we need to listen to the victims. The painful experience of listening to the voices of the sexually abused is a call into a deeper life. For the future the Australian nation and the Australian church need to listen to those we dominate in the Asia/Pacific region and be prepared to learn from them what God asks of us. We cannot live without them.


At the end of this paper I am delighted to reflect on the journey of the last forty years. Vatican II may belong to a by-gone era for the younger portion of our church but for many of us it was a life-orienting event. We spent the better part of our lives trying to understand what had been said and then trying to pursue its vision in a changing world.

As I look forward it is hard to see how the Church in Australia will fulfil her role of being the sacrament of the unity of humankind. Until we as church, sit down, listen and participate in the various conversations in Australia about how do we live as human beings in this part of the world we will not have any answers. If however, we believe that God is pursuing the mission of the Kingdom we can have faith that we will find our place and be able to make our contribution, whoever we are and wherever we are, to that future of love, peace and freedom.

(Father Trevor Trotter is a Columban priest, who served in the Philippines, then taught at the Columban Mission Institute and the Catholic Theological Union in Sydney. Currently he is the Director of the Columban Mission in Australia and New Zealand.)

Posted by Bob Birchall in Archives, Vatican II

18 John Thornhill, SM – Vatican II challenged the Church to leave its tidy ‘world apart’

Vatican II challenged the Church to leave its tidy ‘world apart’ of recent centuries and to share in the ongoing struggles of human history.


The two key documents of Vatican II were Lumen Gentium (which replaced the juridical ecclesiology of recent centuries with an ecclesiology inspired by Christian faith’s earliest vision of the Church as a mystery of solidarity in the Saviour’s Paschal Mystery), and Gaudium et Spes (which called the Church to leave the ‘world apart’ in which it has lived in the modern period, to share in the hopes and struggles of humanity’s journey into the future).

Both of these documents were revolutionary, and it is not surprising that the principal internal tensions within Catholicism today relate to issues which are central to these constitutions: the issue of collegial pastoral responsibility, which is a corollary of the solidarity in the mystery of Christ taught by Lumen Gentium, and the issue of the Church’s collaborative relationship with the cultures of the human family initiated by Gaudium et Spes.

With regard to the second issue, it has become clear that there is a profound difference of opinion between John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger, his principal aide. Understanding this difference helps us to appreciate what is at stake if the Church is to follow the lead of the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World.


Bishop Wojtyla collaborated with Yves Congar and Henri de Lubac in the preparation and promotion of the text that was to become Gaudium et Spes. They both acknowledged the remarkable nature of his contribution (c/f. Geo Weigel, Witness to Hope: The biography of Pope John Paul II, 1999 – page references below are to this work). In his diary, Congar noted Wojtyla’s ‘magnetic power’ and ‘prophetic strength’, and his arguing for a dialogue with contemporaries (p.168); in correspondence with de Lubac, Wojtyla told him that he was preparing a text on ‘the metaphysical sense and mystery of the PERSON’, because he believed that the ‘evil of our times’ was ‘a kind of degradation … pulverisation of the fundamental uniqueness of each human person’ (p.174 – This text was published in English as The Acting Person; the pope‘s position was developed in his weekly addresses, published as The Theology of the Body).

The great Paul VI identified with the position championed by Wojtyla at the council: ‘… evangelise human culture and cultures, in the sense of Gaudium et Spes, taking the person as starting point, and always coming back to relationships… the building up of the Kingdom must borrow elements of human culture and cultures … the Gospel can permeate all cultures without becoming subject to any one of them … cultures have to be regenerated by an encounter with the Gospel …’ (Evangelii nuntiandi n.20).

There are few people who have had the dramatic and tragic events of the 20th century become part of their personal experience as Karol Wojtyla has (‘I have participated in the great experience of my contemporaries – humiliation at the hands of evil’, Weigel, p.87). It is in this experience that the Christian humanism, which has consistently inspired his leadership, had its origins. Forming deep and lasting friendships, he helped his people to salvage their human dignity and inner freedom by reconnecting with their Polish heritage, as they bore the frustrations of life under a Marxist regime. It was an approach which effectively countered the influence of the regime without direct confrontation – and it led ultimately to one of the most important themes of his pontificate: the Church should influence the course of history, not by participating in the world’s political processes, but by the evangelisation of cultures (‘not by being a competitor or partner in the game of politics’, to liberated Poland, 1991).

Wojtyla’s coherent intellectual program that is echoed in Gaudium et Spes

As an academic and popular university lecturer, the future pope worked out a coherent Christian humanism. Some representative texts will help us to appreciate the vision he set out to share.

Optimism concerning human nature – ‘God does not despair of man’ so ‘neither may we despair of man’ (p.598, to Poles reflecting on the experience of World War II). Openness to the role of conscience – ‘While I talked to him for hours, I never heard him say, “I’d advise you to…” … he would always say, “You have to decide”’ (p.105, words of a mature acquaintance); ‘The Church proposes; she imposes nothing. She respects individuals and cultures and she honours the sanctuary of conscience’ (Redemptoris missio, compare Gaudium et Spes, n.16 and Weigel p.636). On the dignity of the person – ‘Re-acquire depth, the depth which is really the essence of the human person’ (p.547);

‘The giving of one’s self to others was a key norm in his personalist ethic: “The Law of the Gift” – Responsible self-giving, not self-assertion, is the road to human fulfilment’ (p.136 – c/f. Gaudium et Spes n.24; ‘Wojtyla suggested that we avoid “using” each other only when two genuine freedoms meet each other without reducing them to objects by manipulating them’ (p.141 – in the context of his wide experience with young students and married couples finding their way in their sexual life). On history and society – ‘The Church is convinced there is only one history – a history filled with God’s presence and redemptive promise: a promise providing the answer to the fears which haunt humanity’ (Weigel p.290, summarising the essential theme of Redemptor hominis, a theme which Wojtyla had championed in the debates of Vatican II); The world has to learn that difference, far from being a threat, is enriching, for ‘different cultures are but different ways of facing the question of the meaning of human existence’. And at the heart of every culture is a distinctive approach to ‘the greatest of all mysteries: the mystery of God’ (p.775, addressing the UN in 1995); Christian faith led Karol Wojtyla to stress the link between the strivings of the world’s cultures and the mystery of the Incarnation. Long before the debates of the council he was convinced of the fundamental importance of what the council was to declare; ‘only in the mystery of the incarnate Word is the mystery of our common humanity revealed to us’ (Gaudium et Spes n.22). This truth was to become a frequent refrain in his papal teaching.

It is clear that when the pope speaks of a new evangelisation, an evangelisation that is carried out through a dialogue with the world’s cultures, he is not resorting to a catchphrase, but proposing a pastoral approach that is profound and coherent. As one writer has put it, genuine religion, because it ‘orients human beings into the divine mystery which transcends all cultural achievements and grounds all truth, goodness and holiness’, opens the way to a dialogue which takes up the ultimate concerns of our common humanity (Matthew Lamb).


A recent biography of Joseph Ratzinger helps us to understand the ambiguous attitude he adopted after Vatican II – at which he had made an important contribution as a theological adviser (John L. Allen: Cardinal Ratzinger: The Vatican’s enforcer, 2000). This study suggests that he left the council unsettled. Lumen Gentium made him hopeful for a renewed Church; but Gaudium et Spes left him concerned that its openness to the broader world and its cultures would be detrimental to the Church’s welfare. Student unrest in the period immediately following the council only served to confirm this judgment. This reaction is associated with Ratzinger’s choice of Augustine as his principal theological guide. Augustine’s theological vision was an immense and complex work of genius. In it his stress upon the importance of God’s grace in the plan of salvation set up a dichotomy: human nature as either graced or fallen. This point of view sees no positive place for human nature, independently of grace, in the plan of God. Later Christian theology, following Aquinas, was to adopt a more adequate paradigm, acknowledging the positive potential of ‘nature’, between ‘graced humanity’ and ‘fallen humanity’.

The divergence of views between John Paul II (a follower of Aquinas) and Joseph Ratzinger (a follower of Augustine) is therefore profound. It has led the cardinal to ‘openly and publicly’ criticise the pope’s initiatives promoting inter-faith dialogue.

For the reasons we have given, the pope is ultimately optimistic about the prospects of a dialogue between Christian faith and the world’s cultural traditions. Joseph Ratzinger judges that such a dialogue can only run the danger of contaminating the doctrinal ‘givens’ of Christian revelation.

“.. CONSCIENCE is the most secret core and sanctuary of a person. There the person is alone with God, whose voice echoes in his or her depths … In fidelity to conscience, Christians are joined with the rest of the human family in the search for truth … Conscience frequently errs, from invincible ignorance, without losing its dignity…”

(Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes, n.16)

CULTURE is the expression of two abilities which have made HUMAN HISTORY what it is … the ability to transcend oneself and make the universe, oneself, and one’s fellows into objects of contemplation, and a “drive” to try to “make sense” out of human experience and find some “principle” in the whole human situation.

(Australian anthropologist, W.E.H.Stanner)

The vitality of a society is bound up with its RELIGION … the cohesive force that unites a society and a culture … A society, which has lost its religion, becomes sooner or later a society that has lost its culture.

* * *

RELIGION is the key of history. We cannot understand the inner form of a society unless we understand its religion. We cannot understand its cultural achievements unless we understand the religious beliefs behind them. In all ages the first creative works of a culture are due to religious inspiration and dedicated to a religious end. The temples of the gods are the most enduring works of man. Religion stands at the threshold of all the great literatures of the world. Philosophy is its offspring and is a child that constantly returns to its parent.

(Historian, Christopher Dawson)

(Father John Thornhill SM is a Marist Father and well-known theologian. He is a writer and speaker, frequently addressing Australian audiences on the vision of Vatican II.)

Posted by Bob Birchall in Archives, Vatican II